Sunday, May 10, 2020

Mike Condon Autographed Card

It's been a hard couple of years for Mike Condon, what with sub-.890 save percentages and over-4.00 GAA for five teams from three organizations in three separate leagues since the beginning of the 2018-19 season.

One could forget he had strong showings both as a rookie with the Montréal Canadiens - highlighted by a Winter Classic win over his hometown Boston Bruins in Boston - as well as his first season with the Ottawa Senators in 2016-17 when he had a .914 save percentage and 2.50 goals-against average in 40 games.

The common thread between the two is that both times, he came in as the unexpected saviour, filling in for the injured Carey Price and Craig Anderson staying with his wife through her fight with cancer, respectively, with no fear of getting glued to the bench after a poor performance and no real pressure.

The same can be said for his one-game stint with the Pittsburgh Penguins, where he made 7 saves and didn't allow a single goal in an full period after being claimed off waivers from the Habs in early 2016-17, with starter Marc-André Fleury pulled, having surrendered five goals to the Nashville Predators.

It's when he's come into a season as the official backup for the Sens that things didn't end so well. Then again, Ottawa's problems are much larger than just the backup goalie, with owner Eugene Melnyk taking up more media space than his players - usually for the wrong reasons - and with bad influences in the room like Matt Duchene leading a putsch to remove demanding head coach Guy Boucher and his staff.

At 30 years of age, there is still time for Condon to pull off a Dominik Hasek/Tim Thomas and shine for a few years, but I see his future more like that of Mike Leighton: an experienced veteran who would be better served playing a 1B role and 30 games per year at the NHL level but will instead be relegated to a "silent leader" role as a #3-4 in the AHL. He even spent some time in the ECHL this year, with unconvincing results, after being sent to the Tampa Bay Lightning for Ryan Callahan's dead cap space:
from HockeyDB
I do not foresee him moving to Europe and having to adapt to different ice dimensions; he'll just need to regroup this summer and come back stronger next year, as most goalies will be affected by the Covid-19-related pause and will be rusty.

Here's a look at his Canadiens mask on card #P-85 from Upper Deck's 2015-16 Series 2 collection and UD Portraits sub-set, with the team,s logo on the side - a staple since the days of Patrick Roy in the late 1980s - and a red shamrock near the neck:
The scan shows the foil well except for the word "Rookies" on the left of the card. He signed it in blue sharpie as a member of the Sens, in 2017-18.

Sunday, May 3, 2020

Steve Bégin Autographed Card

With most governments having put a kibosh on education for the remainder of the school year, I decided to revisit a story I had touched upon in 2017, Steve Bégin aiming to finally obtain his high school diploma. He did so at the end of 2018.

I caught up with him in late November 2019 at the launch of his biography, Steve Bégin: Ténacité, Courage, Leadership (written by Luc Gélinas) where he signed this card for me:
That's #7 in Parkhurst's 2003-04 Original 6 (Montréal Canadiens) set, manufactured by In The Game. It shows him wearing the Montréal Canadiens' perfect white "third/1940s" vintage jersey - a work of art.

In a makeshift press conference before the meet-and-greet, he mentioned how he didn't feel worthy of a biography, rightfully mentioning he was never a generational talent like Wayne Gretzky or Mario Lemieux, and wasn't electrifying like an Alexei Kovalev, but that people may have identified with his working-class roots.

I made sure to remind him he was more than that; he always made sure he was the hardest-working person in the building, even on a team that had Saku Koivu, a tireless workhorse if there ever was one, one whose defeat of adversity is almost on par with that if Maurice "The Rocket" Richard's in the Centennial team's history book. And yet, at that turn of the millennium, there is a rightful asterisk there for Bégin's courage, for finishing a shift against the Big Bad Boston Bruins despite what appeared like most of his teeth still remaining stuck in the end boards after an awkward collision and fall.

He killed penalties, won defensive-zone face-offs, was sent to counter opponents' tactics of intimidation despite his generously-listed 5'11" frame and 190 pounds (more like 5'8" and 180 if you ask me, someone who is 6'2" and 300 at the moment). He was a less legendary Guy Carbonneau, which might explain why Carbo had him traded to the Dallas Stars: he recognized himself in him, but where Carbonneau would have sought out the most efficient play, Bégin just dove head-first into any situation, with total disregard to his health at all times - and sometimes that led to injuries, while other times opponents took advantage of his gnarl to score.

Some teams reward those types of players with the captaincy.

It seems odd to say about a guy who "just" played 524 NHL games after being a second-round draft pick and scored "just" 56 goals to go with 52 assists and 108 regular-season points with the Calgary Flames, Habs, Stars, Bruins and Nashville Predators, never suited up for a full 82 games and only once reached the 20-point mark (23, in 2005.06, to go with 113 penalty minutes, on a Claude Julien-coached Habs team), but I stand by it.

"Heart-and-soul guy" gets passed around a lot, but in today's game, the only other non-captain that has what Bégin had is Brendan Gallagher, so, yeah.

His biggest regret in life was dropping out of high school to pursue his NHL dream. How, thanks to ChallengeU, an app developed with UFC legend Georges St-Pierre, he has remedied the situation. I didn't know that he could get more of my admiration, but there it is. So much so, that I can even forgive him for playing with Boston.

But I'm saving that one for another day.