Long after most of his Belleville Senators teammates left the ice on Friday morning, Mike Condon was on his hands and knees picking up pucks and putting them back in a large bag inside the CAA Arena.
It was certainly not a job befitting of a goalie with a $2.5 million salary — especially when he was surrounded by a number of AHL players who will be healthy scratches for a regular season game.
But the 28-year-old Condon was so ecstatic to simply be on the ice again that he was taking pleasure in even the most menial tasks around the rink.
“I feel really good and had a smile on my face on the ice for the first time in a long time,” Condon told TSN 1200 on Friday in his first public comments in several months. “Just had my second skate with the guys and it was pain free. Trying to dust off the cobwebs.”
Condon has essentially been off the radar since his last NHL game on Oct. 30 in Arizona. After a disastrous performance - in which he was pulled after allowing three goals in the first period of that game - he was placed on waivers by the Senators the following day. And from that point forward, his status was shrouded in mystery. And as the Senators season continued with a carousel of backup goalies including Mike McKenna, Marcus Hogberg and Anders Nilsson, Condon’s name and face evaporated from the minds of Sens fans.
On Friday, Condon opened up about his mindset on the night of that game in Arizona - which ended when he allowed a long-distance Derek Stepan shot to beat him from about 150 feet. The netminder says it was clear to him that his body was sending him warning signs that he would not be able to handle the rigours of an NHL season.
“If you step out on the ice in an NHL game, it’s your responsibility to perform,” explained Condon. “And my body at that point was rough, but my mind was strong and I was trying to gut through it. But my body was failing me at that point.”
After being assigned to Belleville, Condon took a week to try and settle himself physically and mentally, but after he allowed six goals on 23 shots in his lone AHL appearance, he decided to take an extended leave of absence to get to the root of his physical ailments.
This gave him time to do undergo what he called a complete “systemic check” of his entire body.
Codon says that while he was once again experiencing discomfort in his hip, the problem was more complicated than what he has experienced in the past - which included a hip surgery to remove bone spurs after his sophomore season at Princeton in 2011.
At times, the pain was so uncomfortable for Condon, he couldn’t even get out of his car without being in excruciating pain.
“This time it wasn’t a labral issue and it wasn’t an impingement issue. It was a severe inflammation issue,” Condon explained. “I think the scientific word I heard a lot was ‘hypertonic’ - your body just shuts down a certain area.”
Condon sought medical advice and a second opinion before finally settling on an exploratory stem cell treatment in December. According to the netminder, doctors extracted stem cells from his pelvic area and reinserted them into his troubled hip in an effort to reinvigorate the muscle group that had essentially shut down.
“I got stem cells injected into my hip and that really calmed inflammation down,” he says — although doctors told him it would still take up to 10 weeks for him to feel the full effects from the procedure.
Just a few weeks after the stem cell treatment, Condon felt so optimistic about his physical state that he tried to return to the ice in January.
“I was trying to push it trying to get back. But I just wasn’t ready,” he admitted, as he suffered a setback that would keep him sidelined for several more weeks.
However, Condon says that in the first week of March, things started to click for him and he no longer felt any pain or had any restrictions with his mobility.
“People tell you that patience is a virtue and it’s really true. Sometimes you have to take your foot off the gas and let your body take its natural course,” he added. “It’s been frustrating. This is the most hockey adversity I’ve ever faced.”
But instead of the past five months taking its toll on Condon, it seems to have strengthened his resolve and commitment to returning to the Ottawa Senators crease once again.
“I had a lot of time for introspection. You miss it a lot more and realize what you had and you get a whole different perspective. I’m disappointed it happened, but I’m grateful for the process,” Condon said.
The plan now is for Condon to stick around Belleville and get as much practice ice time as possible, while supporting goaltenders Hogberg and Filip Gustavsson as they handle the game action.
Condon’s eyes are squarely focused on training camp in the fall, where he fully intends to push himself back into the Senators goaltending picture at the NHL level. There is a lot of uncertainty in the Ottawa crease for next season, but a fully healthy and capable Condon — scheduled to make $3 million in 2019-20 — could solve a lot of problems for general manager Pierre Dorion.
“I’m going to be a new goalie. I’m going to be a new person,” he says with a great degree of confidence. “I’m going to have a good seven months of hardcore preparation for September. I’m really excited to see what I can be with this new version of myself. A fresh start with a new frame, new body and new mind. The sky is the limit at that point.”