Former University of Maine assistant coach/recruiting coordinator Grant Standbrook admitted that he was “apprehensive at first” when former Black Bear All-American Jim Montgomery offered him a consultant’s job with his Dubuque Fighting Saints of the United States Hockey League.
Montgomery, Maine’s all-time scoring leader, is in his first season as the coach and general manager of the fledgling franchise.
“I didn’t know if I’d be able to skate,” chuckled Standbrook. “But I put my new skates in the oven at 180 degrees to soften them up and they were fine. They conformed to my feet.”
“He was supposed to come in and work with the team from November 1-5,” said Montgomery. “He did that but, typical Grant, he came back on the eighth and worked with them again until the 13th.
“(Coaching) is in his blood,” added Montgomery whose Fighting Saints are 17-4-3 and leading the Western Division by seven points over runner-up Fargo.
Standbrook worked primarily with the goaltenders and the defense and it didn’t long for his expertise to pay off.
“We went from giving up 28 shots per game to 21 and the goalies’ play really improved,” said Montgomery. “He was awesome. He was incredibly valuable. The players loved him.
“After three days, they didn’t want to listen to me any more,” quipped Montgomery.
Standbrook will return to Dubuque from his home in Naples, Fla. later this month for 10 days and Montgomery added that he hopes to bring him back again in March.
“I loved it,” said the 73-year-old Standbrook. “I have a lot of fun with it. The guys were receptive. They were like sponges. They all have aspirations to play college hockey and they’re willing to try anything.”
For Montgomery, hiring Standbrook was a no-brainer.
“Grant is the best one-on-one teacher I have ever been around,” said Montgomery. “Some NHL team should hire him. With his knowledge and the way he connects with players, he creates the type of learning environment everybody would want. It’s Hockey 501 at the graduate level.”
Standbrook said his primary job was working with the goalies “but a lot of the problems had to do with the defensemen (and their gapping).
“My philosophy when it comes to defense is tight gaps,” said Standbrook referring to the space between the defensemen and the opposing forwards. “You don’t want to give (opposing forwards) any space (in which to make plays or generate speed). You’ve got to pick guys up. You want to make it tough for them to penetrate your blue line.”
Standbrook said he was very impressed with the job Montgomery is doing.
“He’s doing a terrific job not only coaching but from a managerial standpoint. He’s a natural leader as he was during the 1992-93 season,” said Standbrook referring to Maine’s first national championship campaign.
Montgomery captained the Black Bears to a 42-1-2 record and was a Hobey Baker Award finalist.
The 41-year-old Montgomery said he has tapped into the formula for success he learned at Maine.
“I wanted us to play like our Maine teams,” said Montgomery. “If you see us play, you’ll notice a lot of what we did at Maine. We play simple hockey, we transition well and we play hard.
“We have a team-first attitude. Everybody gets along. They all play for each other,” Montgomery added.
He has been surprised by his team’s success.
“We have gone way above everybody’s expectations including my own,” said Montgomery. “I give full credit to my assistants (Joe Coombs, Bobby Kinsella) and my scouting staff. We had an identity we wanted to put together and it has fallen into place. We have special players here.
“We went after players with hockey intelligence and competitiveness,” outlined Montgomery. “If you played with your head and your heart, we wanted you on our team. We didn’t care about size or skill sets. Our team has a very high hockey intelligence.We possess the puck very well and when we don’t have it, we try to force the other team into mistakes.”
Montgomery spent four years as an assistant coach at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute after serving as a volunteer assistant at Notre Dame under Jeff Jackson for one season.
He said taking the job at Dubuque “was absolutely the right decision.
“I’ve grown as a person and grown on a professional level,” said Montgomery. “It obviously helps when you have a great group of young men to work with, guys who are willing to work and focus and listen.”
He enjoys Dubuque, saying “it’s a small town and the people are very conservative and very generous.”
Montgomery and wife Emily are the parents of 18-month-old son J.P.and they are expecting another child in June.
Standbrook, meanwhile, spends from October to May in Florida with wife Joy before they returning to their home in Bangor.
He retired in 2008 after spending 20 years with the Maine program, 18 as the assistant coach/recruiting coordinator and two more as a volunteer assistant.
“I enjoyed the coaching but I don’t miss the recruiting. I enjoyed recruiting once I got into the (recruit’s) living room but I didn’t like the traveling,” said Standbrook.
The Standbrooks enjoy playing golf and they do travel to see their three children, six grandchildren and friends.
He receives DVDs of Fighting Saints games from the Dubuque coaching staff in order to dissect them and point out strengths and weaknesses.
Standbrook has followed the Black Bears and saw them in the Florida College Classic in Estero, Fla., this week. Maine finished third, losing to Miami 4-1 and beating Cornell 3-2 in overtime.
“I really like them. It’s an exciting team,” said Standbrook who helped the Bears earn 11 Frozen Four appearances and two NCAA championships. “The win over Cornell was a good one. They needed that for their confidence.”