<
>

Mike Condon wins a sort of homecoming against Bruins

Mike Condon's teammates knew how special the Winter Classic was to him. AP Photo/Michael Dwyer

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- A large group of Boston Bruins fans were standing outside the New England Patriots' locker room when Montreal Canadiens goaltender Mike Condon walked down the tunnel.

When they saw him coming, the crowd gave him a loud ovation. Yes, you heard that correctly: A group of Bruins fans saluted Condon after his 27-save performance helped the Canadiens to a 5-1 victory over Boston in the 2016 NHL Winter Classic at Gillette Stadium.

This group was not composed of your typical Bruins fans.

These fans were wearing Canadiens sweaters, and they were damn proud of it. Members of this raucous crowd were family and friends of Condon, who grew up in Holliston, Massachusetts, just a saucer pass from Gillette.

"This isn't luck," one friend shouted as Condon gave him a fist bump.

With Canadiens No. 1 goaltender Carey Price sidelined because of a lower-body injury, Condon has been given the nod between the pipes. The 25-year-old rookie has played a total of 26 games this season, but Friday's win was the biggest of his hockey career.

"Yeah, probably the most special," Condon said. "Had a lot of friends and family here tonight. And, yeah, Bruins, Habs, Gillette Stadium, New Year's Day, I don't think you could script it any better."

On Thursday, Condon's father, Ted, who is a sergeant in the Massachusetts State Police violent fugitive apprehension unit, escorted the Canadiens' team bus from the hotel to the stadium. After practice, captain Max Pacioretty said the team was a bit more motivated to help Condon earn a win in his hometown.

"I think about his dad every time he made a save and probably the expression on his face when he's watching," Pacioretty said after the win. "It's really special. I think everybody saw how much it meant for his dad and his family to be a part of this game, and to play the way he did is even more special."

Condon's family was ecstatic after the game.

"It's unbelievable," Condon's brother, Zach, said. "It's an unbelievable experience for our whole family here and to see our extended family, the Massachusetts State Police especially, and you can see they're represented in full force out here. It's a special day. I grew up a huge Bruins fan, and to see my little brother coming here and play the way he did is unbelievable."

After Mike shook some hands and received plenty of hugs, he walked over to his former coach at Belmont Hill School, Ken Martin, and wanted to know how the team was doing. Think about that: Condon just had the game of his life, and he was asking about his former high school team.

"I'm just so excited for him," Martin said. "He's worked hard all his life, and nothing has been given to him, and he earns it, and that's the only way he would want it. It was pretty exciting today."

The biggest save of the game for Condon came with 1.3 seconds left in the second period. Montreal had a 3-0 lead when the Bruins' Ryan Spooner had a golden opportunity, but his quality scoring chance was snubbed when Condon flashed a glove save. It was a huge momentum boost for the Canadiens and proved crucial because the Bruins scored at 3:56 of the third period.

"I think I even saw coach smile a little bit," Canadiens forward Brendan Gallagher said of Condon's save.

After that save, there was no way the Canadiens were going to lose this game.

"Playing in front of him, you feel he's got your back, and he certainly did that tonight with a huge performance," Gallagher said. "I know it meant a lot to him and pretty special to be a part of."

Before the game, Condon had a special mask made for the Winter Classic, and it paid homage to the Patriots and their four Super Bowl victories. Quarterback Tom Brady and coach Bill Belichick signed the mask Thursday, and Condon wore it during the game.

"I'm pretty sure anything Tom Brady touches turns to gold," said Condon, who added that he played with a little bit of Brady mojo.

The Patriots were in the building for practice Thursday before they departed for Miami, but Condon was not able to meet Brady in person.

"He's under some pretty tight security, so I don't think they would let a Montreal player into the Pats locker room," he said.

During the game, Condon was focused on the task at hand and wasn't paying any attention to his surroundings. However, he admitted afterward that he took a few mental photos when the final buzzer sounded.

"Just to try to remember this feeling, and it's certainly a special one," he said.

When asked to describe those mental photos, Condon said he wasn't ready to share.

"I haven't really got to look at the camera roll yet," he said with a smile. "Right now, it's just been crazy after the game."

Forget that Condon performed on such a big stage in his hometown because the win earned two crucial points for the struggling Canadiens, and Condon knew that. It couldn't have been easy for him recently, when the team acquired goaltender Ben Scrivens in a trade, but Condon has played well the past few games.

"Every win is huge," he said. "It really doesn't matter the stage. I'm just trying to do anything I can to help the team right now. My confidence always stays the same, no matter what team it is or what the team is going through, so I'm just happy with the two points today."

Leading up to the game, it wasn't a sure bet that Montreal coach Michel Therrien would give Condon the start, but the goaltender proved his worth in his previous two starts, so the coach decided Thursday that Condon would get the nod.

"We knew it was an important game for us," Therrien said. "He certainly deserves to get the start the way that he played his last two games. And we knew that, first of all, he was going to be ready. Any time a player is coming back home, it's a special place for him. We all are happy about the way he performed ... the kid did show a lot of confidence. He works extremely hard, and [I] feel extremely happy for him for the way he performed, especially for him [being] back home."

After the game, as Ted Condon stood to the side of the circle of family and friends surrounding his son, it was evident he was enjoying this moment, not only for Mike but also for the entire Condon family. Ted admitted he had said some prayers Thursday night.

"It was a good day," he said.