TORONTO — When you’ve suited up for three different NHL teams in less than a year, you learn to not get ahead of yourself and take things as they come.
“I don’t think about anything other than what’s in front of me right now,” said Ottawa Senators goalie Mike Condon. “When you do that, you lose sight of the details. And the little things are what make the difference in this league. One mistake could mean the difference between winning and losing.”
And right now, Condon is part of the difference that has the Senators in a playoff spot.
Condon was thrust into the spotlight with the Montreal Canadiens during the 2015-16 season when starter Carey Price went down with a knee injury and Condon began his NHL career with 55 games and a .903 save percentage. He did an admirable enough job on short notice but it appeared he wasn’t ready for a full-time starting position.
The Canadiens signed Al Montoya to be their backup in the off-season, making Condon expendable and was waived just before the 2016-17 season started. The Pittsburgh Penguins took a chance and claimed him to play behind Marc-Andre Fleury while Matt Murray recovered from an injury sustained at the World Cup of Hockey. Condon would play just one game for the Penguins on October 22, coming in relief in the third period and stopping all seven shots he faced against the Nashville Predators in a 5-1 loss.
Just weeks later in early November, the script was again flipped as Ottawa, in need of another option as Craig Anderson stepped away from hockey to care for his wife and Andrew Hammond sidelined by injury, acquired the 26-year old for a fifth round pick in the 2017 draft.
It’s easy to think that all this movement would have taken its toll on Condon. But the opposite has proven true: in the ever-fluid Senators goalie situation, Condon has thrived, going 13-7-3 with a .921 save percentage through 25 games.
“I think that he’s been incredible for our team in the way that he’s came in,” said Ottawa defenseman Dion Phaneuf before Condon faced off against the Toronto Maple Leafs on Saturday night. “Really, he’s given us a chance every night. He’s been very consistent. He’s made some big saves that give us momentum and momentum is a big part of hockey games. He’s put us in the position that we’re at. We owe a lot to ‘Condo.’ He’s been huge for our team.”
Consistency is at the heart of how Condon operates. Though the Senators have iced four goalies this season, Condon has established his place on the team by keeping a level head.
“It’s basically just about staying in the moment,” he told SI.com. “It’s not looking too far ahead. The past is in the past and the future, you have no control over. For me it’s about being in the moment and being where I am right now, it keeps things a lot simpler.”
Even on his third team, he still thrives on that consistency. Saturday’s start was his 12th in a row and he was coming off an impressive 42-save shutout against league leading Columbus Blue Jackets. Those 42 shots against were the most he’s faced all season.
The starts have allowed him to feel more comfortable and get into a rhythm.
“The hardest thing is just not getting complacent,” he said. “The saying I like to say a lot is: familiarity breeds contempt. It’s just about making sure you have that focus and that edge every night.”
Recalibrating himself day-to-day isn’t always easy but Condon has found himself adhering to simple routines to keeping his game and his mind in check. Namely, ensuring he reads at least 20 pages a day. The Princeton grad is incredibly interested in psychology and is always interested in how the brain works. Not much for fiction, some of Condon’s favourites include Ego Is the Enemy and The Obstacle Is the Way: The Timeless Art of Turning Trials into Triumph, both by Ryan Holiday. Both of these titles have empowered Condon and helped him realize something that gives him that necessary mental edge: “Knowledge,” he says, “is a weapon.”
Like many goalies, Condon considers himself more independent than other players. He acknowledges that he’s been through a lot as a professional and has come to an understanding that to stay in the NHL and perform well, few things are more important than maintaining focus.
“I get in my own little world as a goalie and just worry about what I need to do to give these guys a chance,” he said.
He gave his team every chance to win Saturday night, stopping 31 of 33 shots in a 3-2 shootout win at the Air Canada Centre. The win kept the Senators three points ahead of the Leafs and in second place in the Atlantic Division.
Senators GM Pierre Dorion informed reporters on Friday that he’s hopeful Anderson will return to the team’s net at the end of the month, but said he thought Condon has done a “Fantastic job” in net this season.
When Anderson does return to the Senators lineup, questions about Condon’s future will be raised. But even as the playoff hunt continues and those questions get even louder, don’t expect Condon to be paying much attention to them.
“I’ve got my routine, I don’t worry about the results, I don’t worry about the external factors,” said Condon. “I’m just worried about what I need to do to prepare myself and let the chips fall where they may.”