Jim Montgomery is one of just three former University of Maine players to have his jersey (No, 19) retired at Alfond Arena. The late Shawn Walsh, who coached Maine to its two NCAA championships, also had a shamrock retired in his name.
Montgomery is now in his fourth season as the assistant coach and recruiting coordinator at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, N.Y.
Montgomery is the University of Maine’s all-time leading scorer with 301 points on 103 goals and 198 assists in 170 career games. He captained the 1992-93 team to the school’s first NCAA championship as the Black Bears went 42-1-2. Montgomery was a Hobey Baker Award finalist but lost out to linemate Paul Kariya, who became the first and only freshman to win it.
Montgomery went on to register 183 goals and 360 assists in 518 American Hockey League games and, in 122 National Hockey League games, he collected nine goals and 25 assists.
He began his college coaching career as a volunteer assistant under Jeff Jackson at Notre Dame before moving on to RPI.
Montgomery is 40 and he and wife Emily (Pixley) have a 9-month-old son, James Peter Montgomery.
Q: Before every Maine home game, they show highlights from previous years and one of those is your game-winner off Kariya’s pass in the 5-4 win over Lake Superior State in the NCAA title game in 1993. Does it seem like a long time ago or like yesterday?
A: It seems like a long time ago especially when I look in the mirror. But when people ask about it, I’m right back there in the moment. It’s one of those times in life that you’ll never forget. In addition to the national championship, it was all the hard work you put into it with your brothers to achieve the highest goal possible.
Q: It had to be a satisfying season at RPI this season, going 18-17-4 after a 10-27-2 season in 2008-2009.
A: When you look back on the season, it was pretty satisfying. But there is still a lack of consistency game in and game out, concerning how we need to play to have success. It’s a little frustrating. But, as a whole, the program made huge strides and is going in the right direction.
Q: You had two of the best freshman forwards in the country in Brandon Pirri and Jerry D’Amigo. How do you sell recruits on RPI?
A: First, they can receive an incredible education. We have the nation’s 35th best business school and eighth best engineering school. Besides that, we have a wonderful campus. Our rink is kind of like Alfond Arena. It has great charm and we average 4,000 per game. It’s one of the five best home atmospheres in the East. Those are our primary selling points. And what has given us success on the recruiting trail is our staff personality and our willingness to be in front of people’s faces a lot. We make people feel valued. We let them know how much they mean to us by being around them. There are a lot of different means of communication these days but nothing touches people like a [hand-written] letter or a note. I know during my recruiting process, that’s what separated Maine from everyone else. I remember the notes from Grant [Standbrook] and Shawn. There was one from Shawn. I’ll never forget. It was barely legible but in the third sentence, he apologized for his penmanship because he told me he was writing it at 30,000 feet. That showed me how honest he was and how much he cared. He was writing a letter to me while the team was traveling.
Q: How do you enjoy coaching?
A: I love it.
Q: How about your coaching future?
A: I’m just taking things day by day, year by year. I want to excel. I’ve been fortunate to have won championships as a player and I think we’re building a program the right way and we’re building it to last. I want to climb the coaching ladder, but where it takes me, I don’t know. It will depend where the opportunity is. I don’t have a crystal ball.
Q: Do you see yourself coaching at the pro or college level?
A: College hockey is my passion. I love the relationships you build with the student-athletes.
Q: What about returning to Maine?
A: Maine will always be home. I was really proud to see the run they had this year under Tim Whitehead. As an alum, you always want to see the program succeed and achieve at the highest level. It’s nice to see Maine back on the map.
Q: With the parity in college hockey, do you think there will ever be another team that loses just once in 45 games?
A: No, I don’t. Not with the way the game has changed and the importance that goes with the goaltending position. The game has become very regimented. There is a lack of creativity and stuff that has created parity all over the place. When a team like Pittsburgh, as talented as they are, can lose to Florida or Nashville on any given night, that tells you about where the game has gone. I don’t think the game has grown. Players are bigger, faster, stronger and more athletic but the game isn’t as much fun to watch because there aren’t as many scoring opportunities.
Q: What made the 1992-93 team so special?
A: Unselfishness. Everyone did their part for the team. We had outstanding talent so the players could have been selfish. But when your best player [Kariya] is unselfish [that sets the tone]. Paul kept his shifts to 40 seconds on the power play when he could have stayed out there for the whole time. Everyone bought into the standards set by Shawn and Grant.
Q: You learned a lot from the two of them, didn’t you?
A: They were incredibly intelligent people. You’d have to live under a rock to not learn from them.
Q: Do you still keep in touch with your Maine teammates?
A: Yes. I just called Paul after he scored his 400th [career NHL goal]. I got his answering machine. But he called me back. I talked to Kent Salfi recently and Justin Tomberlin and Garth Snow. I keep in touch with a lot of them, but those are the ones I talk to the most.
Q: When you have time off, how do you spend it?
A: With my free time now, I want to be around my wife and my son. I bring my work home with me so I can be around them more often. Being a father has been wonderful. It’s been the best thing to ever happen to me along with winning the championships.
Q: If money is no object, what would be a perfect 24 hours for you?
A: I’d get up with my wife and my son and play with him before having breakfast together. I would probably have lunch with my closest buddies. We’d sit around and shoot the breeze about all kinds of different topics, mostly sports-driven. In the afternoon, I’d be on the ice coaching or playing a pickup game with my friends. At night, I’d have dinner with my family and some close friends, probably over a barbecue. To me, that would be a perfect day.
Q: If you could meet one person, living or dead, who would it be and why?
A: Jack Nicholson. I love his work. He’s such a captivating individual. I’ve read interviews with him in magazines and seen some of his interviews on television. Just the way he thinks is so different than most people. I love his sense of humor and his intelligence level is so high. I would love to have dinner with him.
Q: What do you see yourself doing 10 years from now?
A: I’d like to be a head coach of a college hockey program. I’d be there during the day, we’d have practice at 4 [p.m.] and then, after practice, I’d coach my son’s team.
Q: Has Paul Kariya ever compensated you or [linemate] Cal Ingraham for helping him win the Hobey Baker Award?
A: (Laughing) No, he hasn’t. He’s so cheap, he probably still has his first paycheck. He’s made maybe $90 million and he’s probably only spent $100,000.
Q: How do you feel about your playing career as a pro?
A: I think I achieved more than I every dreamed of. I never thought I’d play [in the NHL]. I’d call it a success.