Mike Condon spends most of his free time -- like six nights a week -- in a hockey rink.
Condon, 32, is a linesman in the American Hockey League, an off-ice official for the Philadelphia Flyers of the National Hockey League, a referee for collegiate games and a supervisor for youth and high school games.
"I love it," said Condon, who works full-time on high-rise building projects for the Philadelphia Building Trades Union. "I played hockey in high school, but was injured when I was 17 and that ended my playing career. I started working youth league games as an on-ice official, and have been in professional hockey for the past 12 years.
"I first worked in the old Eastern League, and have been in the AHL for the last eight years. I first came to Baltimore when the Clippers were in the Eastern League. Baltimore is like a second home to me. I have relatives who live in Annapolis, and some times when I come down here, I get a chance to visit them.
"It's a lot different now than it was in the 1970s. I can remember games when the Clippers and their opponents would get into brawls that would end up with the fans getting involved. You NTC took your life in your hands to work those games, and we did it all for $27.50 and no expense voucher. The first time I worked an AHL game and got a voucher for travel and meals, I thought I had died and gone to heaven."
Condon works as a goal judge, penalty timer and scorer for the Flyers at the Spectrum. "We rotate jobs all the time so that everyone knows each job," he said. "When I work as a linesman in the AHL, I generally work games in Baltimore, Hershey, Binghamton and New Haven. College games I work are in the Philadelphia area."
A typical four days for Condon began Thursday when he worked the Flyers-Buffalo Sabres game at the Spectrum, moved to the Baltimore Arena on Friday to be a linesman for the Skipjacks-Hershey Bears game, traveled to Princeton, N.J., to work an Ivy League contest on Saturday, and worked a high school game in Philadelphia on Sunday.
"It's a tough grind, but I love it," Condon said. "It's a challenge, and I love a challenge. The play in the AHL, I find, is very close to the level of the NHL. That's because so many players play in both leagues now. Also, the coaches in the AHL have better control of their players and do a better job of preparing them to play in the NHL than 10 years ago, say."
Condon said his goal always was to work in the NHL. "That's everybody's goal, but I think the chance has passed me by," he said. "I'm a little old for that now. The NHL is looking for guys about 25 years old. But I still love doing what I'm doing."
Condon said the toughest part of the job has been the travel in the winter. "Usually, it's an easy trip to Baltimore," he said. "I take the train both ways. But a few years back, we had a game run over because of fights, match penalties and fan involvement, and the game didn't end until about midnight. The last train to Philadelphia was at 11:15 p.m. and I missed it. I had to wait at Penn Station for three hours for the first morning train so I could get home. And I had to be at my regular job at 7 a.m.
"Another time, coming down I-95, I got caught in a traffic tie-up because of icy conditions, and I had to pull my car over to the side and wait nine hours before the conditions cleared."
He said it is hard to single out players as the best he's seen in the AHL. "I saw a lot of good ones in the past and even more today," Condon said. "The professionalism in this league is great. It's a pleasure to work these games.
"I always loved coming to Baltimore and now I enjoy it even more. Now, if I come for a couple of weekend games, I bring my wife, Kathy, and three children [two sons and a daughter] and we spend time at the Inner Harbor and seeing the sights during my free time. My mother and father have also come to see me work in Baltimore, and at one game, my mother got in a fight here. Some guy said something about me that she didn't like, and she turned around and belted him."
Many past and present NHL players and officials were smiling last week when the Tampa Bay Lightning, headed by Phil Esposito, was chosen as an expansion franchise. One of the happiest was former Pittsburgh Penguins and Skipjacks coach Gene Ubriaco.
Ubriaco and the Esposito brothers, Phil and Tony, grew up on the same street in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario.
"I couldn't be happier for Phil," Ubriaco said. "He certainly deserved it. I sent him a telegram and congratulated him, and I told him I know he will do a good job."
Is there a chance that Ubriaco, who was Tony Esposito's coach when the latter was the general manager in Pittsburgh, would go to work for the new franchise?
"I really don't know," Ubriaco said. "Nothing has been discussed. All that would be something that would have to take place in the future, and I really haven't thought about it."