Condon finding groove after slow start

After scoring three goals in the season’s first 17 games, Nate Condon has seven in the last 13.

Minnesota forward Nate Condon fights for the puck against North Dakota defenseman Derek Forbort on Saturday, Jan. 19, 2013, at Mariucci Arena.

Emily Dunker

Minnesota forward Nate Condon fights for the puck against North Dakota defenseman Derek Forbort on Saturday, Jan. 19, 2013, at Mariucci Arena.

Drew Claussen

Gophers junior forward Nate Condon had an interesting talk with head coach Don Lucia before heading home for winter break.

Condon had notched only three goals in the season’s first half, well below where Lucia expected him to be.

“He got on me quite a bit,” Condon said. “It was more of a talk of ‘Go home and find 10 goals laying around the house.’”

“I think I found them in my mom’s cooking when I was home,” he said.

The Wausau, Wis., native now ranks fifth on the No. 2 Gophers in points with 10 goals and 17 assists.

“There was more there,” Lucia said, “and I think he knew it.”

Condon said he’s had slow starts before.

“It’s a tough thing to battle through, but once you find your way through it, then you’re just that much more happy,” Condon said. “I’m really happy with how I’m playing right now.”

Lucia said Condon’s struggle was not a byproduct of a lack of effort.

“Nate’s always been a hard-working player,” Lucia said. “With his speed, he should be able to be more of an impact in a game than he had in the first half of the season.”

Having an impact doesn’t necessarily mean scoring goals every game. But Lucia said Condon should be on the scoreboard in some fashion every weekend.

Condon’s teammate and roommate Mark Alt said Condon’s turnaround has helped the team. He said Condon has stepped up in important games.

“That’s kind of his nature,” Alt said. “The games that matter, big games like North Dakota, he’s been that guy that breaks through and has those key goals for us.”

Minnesota has played 10 of its 13 second-half games against teams ranked in USCHO.com’s top-20 poll. The Gophers went 6-3-1 against those teams. Condon had five goals and seven assists during that stretch.

Through it all, he’s had to switch lines while the coaching staff experimented with new combinations of players. He’s played on the first, second and third lines this season at both the center and wing positions.

“They’ve been calling me the utility player,” Condon said. “But it’s not difficult for me as long as the people I’m playing with are doing well.”

Condon had the most success this season when he filled in for an injured Erik Haula as the second-line center with Zach Budish and Sam Warning. When Haula returned to playing center, Condon moved to right wing on the first line with Nick Bjugstad and Kyle Rau.

Condon is often regarded as one of the fastest skaters on the team and has been a large part of the Gophers’ power play and short-handed units in the last two seasons.

“I pride myself on the short-handed goals,” Condon said. “It’s one thing to get up the ice, but another to get down there and score somehow shorthanded.”