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When you least expect it

by Staff Writer / Montréal Canadiens

MONTREAL – There is no substitute for experience. Mike Condon is certainly in agreement there.

After earning a roster spot with the Canadiens out of training camp, it’s safe to say the 25-year-old rookie netminder didn’t expect to make 55 appearances between the pipes – including 51 starts – playing behind the likes of Carey Price. But, when Price went down with an MCL sprain in his right knee in late November, the Canadiens turned to Condon to carry the bulk of the load the rest of the way. It was nothing short of a baptism by fire for the Holliston, MA native, who was literally thrust into the spotlight in Montreal for the final four-and-a-half months of the year.

The Princeton University graduate would learn a lot about himself and his goaltending capabilities as the season went on, especially as the Canadiens battled through some of the toughest adversity they’ve faced in years with so many of their regulars up front and on the back end being forced to watch from the sidelines due to injury.

“I found out that I can compete at this level. I have to work on puck handling, rebound control and staying compact. I have a long list. I feel like every goalie has their own list of things to work on. I’m not content with any part of my technique or my play right now, so each aspect can be evaluated and improved upon,” admitted Condon, who was the busiest rookie netminder in the NHL in 2015-16, making 15 more appearances than his closest rival, John Gibson of the Anaheim Ducks. “I know what I have to work on to get better. It’s just a matter of taking that next step and becoming more comfortable and experienced.”

While it seemed like Condon was playing behind a different lineup almost every single time out, he still managed to backstop Michel Therrien’s troops to 21 victories, which also had him tied for the rookie lead with Gibson at season’s end. He was also the only rookie netminder to log over 3,000 minutes of playing time for his club between October and April, facing a league-leading 1,458 shots and making 1,317 saves along the way. He also helped paced the Canadiens to a 5-1 win over the Boston Bruins in the Winter Classic on home turf at Gillette Stadium on New Year’s Day, and picked up his first career NHL shutout on March 31 in Tampa.

“Three years ago when I was graduating school, there was never really a thought in my mind that said that I’d end up playing in the NHL. Looking back at my career, who would have thought that I’d end up here one day? Statistically speaking, the odds weren’t in my favor,” said Condon, who’d split his time between the AHL and ECHL ranks following a four-year stint at Princeton before debuting with the Canadiens last fall. “I’ve been grateful to wear this jersey and to come to the rink every day. I’m very thankful for the opportunity.”

Interestingly enough, Condon’s 55 appearances this past season made him the third-most-utilized rookie netminder in Canadiens history, trailing only Ken Dryden (64 – 1971-72) and Gerry McNeil (70 – 1950-51). He also ranked in the Top 10 in wins (21), and was among the leaders in goals-against average (2.71) and save percentage (.903) as well.

In recognition of his efforts, Condon was named the Canadiens’ candidate for the Bill Masterton Trophy by the Montreal chapter of the Professional Hockey Writers Association (PHWA), awarded to the NHL player who best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to hockey.

He was also selected to be one of three goaltenders to represent the United States at the 2016 World Hockey Championships in Russia, along with Keith Kinkaid of the New Jersey Devils and young gun Thatcher Demko of the Vancouver Canucks. The tournament will begin for Condon and the Americans on May 6 with a tilt against Brendan Gallagher and Team Canada in St. Petersburg.

“I’m excited to wear a different kind of bleu-blanc-rouge. I get to play some more hockey,” said Condon, who definitely put himself on Team USA’s radar over the course of his standout season with the Canadiens. “Growing up, I never had a chance to represent my country or wear that jersey. It’s an honor to receive the call. It will be my first time at any level representing the U.S.”

To say that the Canadiens’ No. 39 is motivated to come back strong next season and build on a successful rookie year would be an understatement. Hungry to see what his sophomore campaign has in store, Condon is committed to making the most of his World Championships experience and the ensuing offseason to get set for his next challenge.

“I just have to focus on getting better and ramp up the intensity over the summer,” said Condon, who will turn 26 next Wednesday. “Playing 55 games is a lot. I got more and more comfortable as the year went on. At the same time, you can’t get too comfortable in this league. Nothing is guaranteed. I need to keep that intensity up and come to camp ready to compete for a spot.”

Matt Cudzinowski is a writer for canadiens.com.

SEE ALSO
Mike Condon's top stops during the 2015-16 season
Side projects
Building a winner 
The domino effect
IceCaps report – Apr. 19

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