Mike Condon was an unwanted goaltender two and a half years ago. Now he's Carey Price's backup with the Montreal Canadiens.
Condon's incredible journey to the NHL took him from Princeton University to Wall Street and on a rapid rise through the minor leagues. On Sunday, he made 20 saves to win his first start for the Canadiens, to whom he believes he owes everything.
"I got a lot of good opportunities, and I'm very fortunate for them," Condon said. "I'm just trying to make the most of the one I have now."
Condon has made the most of every opportunity over the past several years, especially when it looked as if his hockey career was over. When his time at Princeton came to an abrupt end with a first-round playoff sweep in March, 2013, Condon couldn't latch on with anyone and went about working on his 130-page thesis on post-Cold War arms transfer, "a real snoozer."
Exploring his options, he even tried a one-day internship on Wall Street.
"It was miserable," Condon said. "I did the rat race for a day, and I didn't really like it."
During spring break, Condon reached out to the ECHL's Ontario Reign "just on a hope and prayer" and flew from New Jersey to California to play on an amateur tryout. After a couple of goaltenders were injured, he got four starts and allowed just six goals on 99 shots, parlaying that success into a professional tryout with the American Hockey League's Houston Aeros.
Injuries with the Minnesota Wild got Condon to Houston, where he won his first three starts and took part in the playoffs. His career path went from not looking good to fast track.
"When the season ends and no one comes knocking for a tryout or anything like that, it's tough," Condon said. "My family invested so much time in the game and so much blood and sweat that I was like, 'It'd be bad if I didn't go out there and at least give it a try.' I went out there with a good attitude, an open mind and good things happen."
In May, 2013, the Habs came knocking and signed Condon to a two-year contract. His goalie coach at Princeton, Greg Gardner, appreciates just how thin the difference was between Condon breaking out and never getting discovered.
"The way NHL scouting goes, sometimes if you don't happen to be at the right game at the right moment, you might miss them," Gardner said. "Pro hockey's all about being prepared for opportunities. … His path is about proving people wrong, and he just continued to get better."
Condon starred for the ECHL's Wheeling Nailers, playing so well and earning so much favour in the organization that the Habs brought him up as a black ace during their playoff run. Last season he started for the AHL's Hamilton Bulldogs and in training camp unseated Dustin Tokarski as Price's backup.
During training camp, Condon was so determined to block out distractions that he didn't have an international phone plan. He'd text his parents every once in a while, but took a break from Twitter and wanted to keep his mind focused.
"The mind's a powerful thing, and the quieter it is, the better you play," Condon said. "The work's been put in in the summer and just got to let it show."
It showed. Montreal general manager Marc Bergevin said Condon "really outplayed" Tokarski, who was waived and sent to the St. John's IceCaps.
Condon's calm in net and work ethic in practice earned him not only an NHL job, but the respect of his coaches and teammates.
"He showed up every day ready to work," alternate captain Brendan Gallagher said. "The training camp he had, he earned his spot. For him in practice, he battles hard, he competes hard and makes us work and that's only going to make us better."
Condon should be an upgrade over Tokarski, who had a .910 save percentage last season. But because he's on a two-way contract and doesn't require waivers, the Needham, Mass., native isn't guaranteed to stick unless he shows he deserves it.
A strong outing against the Senators was a good start, though Condon is trying to worry about the present and not reflect on his path to the NHL or what would've happened if things didn't work out.
"I'd probably be behind some desk," Condon said. "But I'd much rather be here."
One day the political science major might again look at finance jobs, but Condon hopes that day doesn't come for a long time. Gardner isn't concerned about that, especially after what his pupil has gone through.
"He's come a long way from a maturity standpoint and from a professional standpoint," Gardner said. "Nothing surprises me. I truly believe he's got a great future ahead of him."