Nate Condon wandered into foreign territory four years ago with a Reggie White Packers jersey packed alongside his new Gophers hockey gear.
The Wausau, Wis., native will depart in rare company as just the third non-Minnesotan to wear the captain’s “C” in the past 40 years.
Current Gophers assistant coach Grant Potulny was the last Minnesota transplant to hold the honor from 2002-2004. Before that, Jim Gambucci captained the 1972-1973 Gophers. It takes a special person to embrace the challenge of succeeding in the Gophers’ predominately Minnesotan hockey program, said Potulny, a North Dakota native.
“It’s a big thing for me because I came in and I didn’t know anyone my freshman year,” Condon said. “And I just kind of built myself up where they respect me, and to get their votes last year was a big thing.”
Captain was never on Condon’s radar. He said he was part of a class of 10 Gopher recruits that grew to 13 at one point. His goals focused on a spot in the lineup and continuing to mature as a player and person.
Condon, a Colorado Avalanche seventh-round pick in the 2008 NHL draft, achieved these goals and as a result earned a co-captain job he never considered a possibility.
Fellow co-captain Kyle Rau said everyone respects what Condon “has to say.” Rau, at 21 two years younger than Condon, added that he’s learned a lot by observing the way Condon leads.
There’s nothing about Condon the hockey player the team doesn’t love, Rau said, except some of his Wisconsin tendencies.
“He’s a Packers fan,” Rau grumbled. “We don’t like the Packers in Minnesota.”
That doesn’t stop Condon from wearing his Reggie White jersey or tossing around a Packers-branded football. Every Packers’ victory over the Vikings adds to this friendly inter-team rivalry and gives Condon a chance return any Wisconsin digs he’s endured.
When the Gophers play in Wisconsin, Condon is overwhelmed with “homeland” chants or “cheesehead” references.
Overall, though, Condon and his family have been adopted into Minnesota’s tight-knit hockey community and will proudly wear Gophers jerseys at next weekend’s Big Ten opener against Wisconsin.
“Minnesota’s fans have been great,” Condon said, “and accepted me as one of their own.”
Condon has given Gophers fans plenty to cheer about. In his 128 games, he has 33 goals and 86 points. He set career highs in goals (12) and points (31) as a junior.
This season, he’s been challenged with developing a successful line with two freshmen, center Justin Kloos and right wing Taylor Cammarata.
“It’s not easy,” Gophers coach Don Lucia said. “That line hasn’t been scored on much and a big part of that is the play of Nate. … But no complaints from Nate. He just wants our team to do well.”