Healthy Condon a big reason for Princeton's upward mobility
by Adam Wodon/NYHJ Writer
In this day and age of modern goaltending, athleticism and mobility are valued like never before.
So it was alarming for Mike Condon to go through games feeling like he couldn’t get up after executing a butterfly save, or move across his crease with enough agility to make key stops.
He tried lots of exercises to alleviate the problem, but nothing worked.
After his sophomore season at Princeton, Condon saw a doctor. The resulting X-rays made his problem so apparent, even the interns in the room were laughing at its obviousness.
“There were five doctors in the room,” Condon said. “They put the X-ray of my hips on the board and the intern said, ‘Isn’t it obvious? There’s two huge impingements.’ There were bone spurs at the top of my femurs. I was doing the butterfly for so long, it was bone on bone. It wasn’t so much painful; I just couldn’t move.
“It’s been night and day ever since. ... Right out of surgery, I had 15 percent more range of motion.”
Condon said his father recently had his hip replaced, and he was told he could be pre-arthritic by age 30. But he remains undeterred.
“We have bad hip genes, I guess,” Condon said.
That wasn’t all that changed for Condon. While he was on his way back to Massachusetts for the surgery, Tigers coach Guy Gadowsky told the team he was taking the job at Penn State. Princeton had reached its greatest heights under Gadowsky.
“It was a pretty cool opportunity and I don’t blame him,” Condon said.
Former St. Lawrence assistant Bob Prier accepted the job at Princeton and, despite it being his first head-coaching assignment, he won the players over quickly. Condon was particularly pleased that Prier wanted one of his assistants to specifically be a goaltenders coach.
His first two years, Condon worked with a volunteer assistant, Neil Little, a former All-American at RPI and a current Philadelphia Flyers scout. But Little was only there every couple of weeks. Now, he would have a full-time assistant. The choice was former Niagara standout Greg Gardner.
“When I heard it was Gardner, I hadn’t heard of him,” Condon said. “I looked up his numbers immediately — they were ridiculous. … The biggest thing is the one-on-one sessions early in the mornings, Monday and Tuesday for an hour. It’s just great to have someone to bounce something off and ask questions. He’s been there, too.”
In early February, Condon sported a 5-6-3 record, 2.44 goals-against average and .920 save percentage for the Tigers, who were in fifth place in ECAC Hockey with a 5-4-3 record (7-8-4 overall).
Prier has seen the difference.
“Gardner is an incredible asset,” the coach said. “(Condon) is making it look pretty easy. He has good rebound control.
“He’s a senior now, so he’s emotionally strong, mentally strong. He handles things well and he’s a very good teammate. I don’t know if I would call him a leader — that’s tough to do as a goalie. You almost don’t want those kind of pressures on a goaltender. It’s almost become a different part of the sport; it’s such a specialized position.”
It’s been a lot of work getting to where he is now, and it hasn’t been easy. But then again, one doesn’t go to Princeton in the first place because they want things to be easy.
And college hockey players there don’t just skate by. They need to do the work like everyone else. For seniors, that means writing a lengthy thesis paper on a topic within their field of study.
“It’s 3 a.m. and we’re on the way home from St. Lawrence, and you look up and the lights are still on (on the bus), everyone’s headphones are in and the books are open,” said Condon, a political science major with a concentration in international relations. “It’s tough but hopefully it will be worth it. ... They told us as freshman, ‘Do what you enjoy and the career will take care of itself.’
“The grass is always greener. We’re not celebrities like other teams are. But you look at the kid next to you and he’s a fencer and he’s in the Olympics, and other schools don’t have that. It keeps you humble and you start thinking about what would it be like in other places — a 10,000-seat arena, cheerleaders. But that’s the way it is here and you grow to appreciate it.”
The support at Princeton is also top-notch. “The best thing about this place is reunions,” said Condon, who was in charge of organizing a large part of the hockey reunion weekend the past couple of years.
He was particularly uplifted by meeting Maj. Gen. Mark Milley, who came to speak to the team after a game. Milley is a two-star Army general stationed at Fort Drum, N.Y., but more importantly is from Arlington, Mass., near Condon’s home town of Needham, and he is a former Princeton hockey player.
“That was special,” Condon said.
One place being a Princeton alum doesn’t have its advantages, however, is in professional hockey, a place where meritocracy reigns. Though a handful of Princeton alums have made the NHL in the past 15 years, they are still scarce. That won’t stop Condon, however, from giving it a shot.
“To have an ultimate plan, I don’t know what that is,” Condon said. “But I’ve invested so much in the sport; my family has spent a lot of time and money, (and) it would be a shame to let that end at the end of college. It’s been a fun ride, a nice career to hang my hat on, but I’m not satisfied with that. I want to go as far as I can, give it a try.
“I’ve talked to a lot of people on Wall Street and stuff; you get it ingrained in you that you want to get out there and start making money. But older people I’ve talked to say you can always grab a suit and sit behind a desk.”
The Tigers have done well lately, behind Condon’s hot play. The combination of brains and brawn should serve them well down the stretch.
“We’re trying to improve defensively,” Prier said. “We know we’re going to score enough goals to win. We have talent and depth and the best player in the league right now in (Andrew) Calof, statistically. We’re really just trying to hunker down defensively.”
This article originally appeared in the February 2013 issue of New York Hockey Journal.