Montgomery pulling for Black Bears’ resurgence

Posted Nov. 27, 2012, at 7:04 p.m.
Last modified Nov. 27, 2012, at 7:26 p.m.

Jim Montgomery gets emails from people he doesn’t know.

University of Maine hockey fans disgruntled with coach Tim Whitehead and the team’s 2-9-1 start want the general manager and head coach of the Dubuque (Iowa) Fighting Saints of the United States Hockey League to return to Orono and restore the program to its glory days.

But the captain of the Black Bears’ 1992-93 (42-1-2) NCAA championship team and the school’s all-time leading scorer doesn’t dwell on the emails.

If school administrators contacted him about coaching at Maine someday, he said he would listen.

However, he supports Whitehead and said he likes the current freshman class, especially center Devin Shore and defenseman Ben Hutton.

“As alums, we’re all pulling for the program to return to the upper echelon of Hockey East, win championships and raise banners.

“I’m sure Tim and his staff are doing everything they can to get there,” said Montgomery, a former assistant at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and Notre Dame.

Montgomery has had a lot of success in his two-plus seasons at Dubuque.

He won the league’s Clark Cup given to the tournament champion in his first season and was named the league’s top general manager. They earned the top seed in the Eastern Conference by virtue of their 37-14-9 record.

The nine represents overtime losses.

Last season, the Fighting Saints went 36-20-4 and finished third in the Eastern Conference and were knocked out in the second round of the playoffs.

This season, they are 16-2-1 and are leading the Eastern Conference.

Twelve of his players have verbally committed to attend Division I schools in the future, including four to Hockey East schools.

None are going to Maine, but his former two-year goalie, Matt Morris, is a freshman at Maine.

Montgomery said he hasn’t heard from the Maine coaching staff but pointed out that there are a lot of other schools that haven’t contacted him, either, and blamed it on the current recruiting trend.

“I’m shocked at the number of schools that haven’t approached us because we have one of the best teams in junior hockey. But the problem with college recruiting now is they have players tied up two years in advance so they don’t have any scholarships left,” said Montgomery, referring to the fact schools receive verbal commitments from players who are just 15 and 16 years old to try to get a leg up on rival recruiters.

Maine has received verbal commitments from seven players who are currently with other teams in the USHL, which is considered the top junior league in the country.

The 43-year-old Montgomery, who had 301 points in his four years at Maine, said he has been “extremely surprised” at his team’s start.

“I don’t think anyone in the league thought we’d be where we are. We didn’t either. We thought we’d consistently get better every month and, by playoff time, we’d be one of the top teams in the league,” said Montgomery. “But we have a lot of players who can make plays and who compete hard. They have a lot of hockey sense and see the ice well. We have a very good team. Our defense is mobile and can move the puck and our forwards are extremely smart and play with a lot of purpose at both ends of the ice.”

His leading scorer, center Mike Szmatula (16 goals, 14 assists in 19 games), is going to Northeastern next year.

“They play hard for each other and it’s a fun group to coach,” said Montgomery, who has former Maine assistant coach and recruiting coordinator Grant Standbrook back on his payroll as his part-time assistant coach/goalie coach.

“Grant makes everybody better, especially me,” said Montgomery about the recent Manitoba Sports Hall of Fame inductee.

“I call him HOF now,” quipped Montgomery, who had a five-team, 122-game NHL career.

Montgomery, who has already coached 24 Division I players, including Boston College star Johnny Gaudreau, to go with the 12 who have committed to attend Division I schools in the future, said he is enjoying himself.

“I love it. Every year is a new challenge,” said Montgomery, who has two young sons, J.P. and Colin, with wife Emily.

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