It was a game to remember for Mike Condon. The Montreal Canadiens goaltender starred vs. the Bruins in his Boston homecoming.
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Mike Condon wandered down the tunnel of Gillette Stadium, searching in vain for the family members who should’ve been there by now. He held a framed ticket from that night’s win, gifted by a friend after his Canadiens pasted the Bruins, 5–1, the largest margin of victory in Winter Classic history. He stopped to take pictures. He paused to sign autographs. “That was so sick,” someone said. Condon smiled, paying less than full attention.
Deeper the goaltender walked along the black rubber mat, retracing the path he and his Montreal teammates marched onto the ice. He peeked outside in the New Year’s Day dark, where fans behind a fence cheered at his presence. Still no one familiar in sight. An NHL official tapped his shoulder. Condon was needed inside the interview room for a news conference. He wheeled around and walked back.
All Friday afternoon, while Condon backstopped the Canadiens to their second straight win, flirted with history and dazzled with one impossible glove save, he had tried to treat the 23rd career start like those that came before it. He wanted to ignore the crowd of 67,246, roaring from the seats where he once watched Patriots games as a child. He endeavored to block out the pageantry, from the pregame flyover to the Boston Pops brass section to the fireworks shooting into the overcast sky. He remembered this much, at least: Down at rink level, it seemed quieter than indoor games, more peaceful than he expected.
But when asked later for any lasting images gathered during a 27-save outing—one deflected puck away from the first Winter Classic shutout ever—Condon had nothing.
“Mental photos, I don't know,” he told reporters, sitting on a stage where Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, who had autographed his mask, often conducted his postgame interviews. “I haven't really got to look at the camera roll, I guess, yet. Right now it’s just been crazy after the game here.”
In the back of the auditorium, the door swung open. In snuck Mike’s father, Ted, and his brother, Zach. Family passes dangled around their necks, but neither wore any Canadiens gear, or any other signs of their relation to the game’s second star. Zach pulled out his phone and began recording the presser. Ted stood still. Asked how he was doing, Ted simply shook his head. “Unbelievable,” he finally said.
To accommodate the tailgating crew of friends and family headed to Gillette, the Condons booked two small buses for that morning. Everyone boarded in the parking lot of St. Sebastian’s School, right along the Charles River in Needham, near where Ted made his home after divorcing Mike and Zach’s mother. It was there that Mike grew self-reliant, putting himself on the bus to school, making sure his homework got done, learning to cope in the cold when the bills weren’t paid. All these years later, at the summit of his sport after a journey that included stops at high school, college, the ECHL and AHL, it seemed worth it.
“When you’re working out in the summer in a house in the middle of Cape Cod with a trainer every day and you’re by yourself and all your friends are out partying and drinking, it’s a lonely road,” Mike said after Montreal’s practice Thursday. “When you’re in West Virginia in the East Coast League, when you’re in Hamilton, now you’re in Montreal, it’s a constant state of being alone and doing your own thing. I’ve been doing that my whole life.”
In the biggest game of his career thus far, he was not alone. He faced only three shots on goal by the first intermission, the second-fewest allowed during any regulation Winter Classic period (Pittsburgh managed a measly two in the first-ever installment, against Buffalo in 2008). He was supported by two goals from Paul Byron, and one goal and one assist from captain Max Pacioretty and forward Brendan Gallagher, who returned after a 17-game absence for two broken fingers. The five tallies hung on Bruins goaltender Tuukka Rask were more than Montreal had scored in any game since Thanksgiving.
Condon’s magical moment arrived in the dying seconds of the middle frame, a few minutes after Gallagher’s deft tip-in put Montreal ahead, 3–0. With Tomas Plekanec shelved for flipping the puck over the glass, Boston forward Ryan Spooner found himself alone on the weak side, squared up to an empty net. As Spooner settled then loaded up, Condon lunged on both knees and snared the puck above his head. One-tenth of a second in the period remained when the clock stopped. “Lucky, lucky save,” Condon said later.
Up in Section 135, the Condons leapt to their feet. Sitting in front of them, the family of forward David Desharnais turned around, mouths open. What the hell did he just do? It was, Zach said, one of those unforgettable moments that stick with someone forever, equally critical in the course of the game. If the puck goes in, the Bruins take momentum into the last intermission. Instead, the shutout remained intact.
“Playing in front of him you feel he’s got your back and he certainly did that tonight with a huge performance,” Gallagher said, Condon seated to his left. “I know it meant a lot to him and pretty special to be a part of.”
When Condon answered his last question and exited stage-right, Ted and Zach left through the back door to meet him. Mike hugged both at once and passed his father the framed ticket. Together they walked down the hall, past the fence where family members were herded to wait, and found the remaining Condons. A loud cheer went up. Ted and Zach held court with reporters. Mike posed for more pictures, real ones to go along with whatever had been etched into family lore.