Jim Montgomery knew what it was like to win an NCAA Division I hockey championship. The former All-American was a captain at the University of Maine for its first national title in 1993.
On Saturday night, the 47-year-old experienced that joy as a head coach when his Denver Pioneers beat Minnesota-Duluth 3-2 in the title game at the United Center in Chicago.
“It feels awesome. It was like ’93 all over again. I’m happy to be a part of both,” Montgomery, who captained the Black Bears to a 42-1-2 season, said.
Denver went 33-7-4 this season.
Montgomery had some help during the game as he and former UMaine assistant coach Grant Standbrook shared text messages. Standbrook was in his hospital room in Naples, Florida, where he is recuperating from pneumonia and shingles — side effects from the chemotherapy treatment he underwent for his lymphoma, according to Montgomery.
“He texted me a slew of things he saw, and it was up to me to pick out the things I thought we could apply that would help the team,” Montgomery said. “Grant sees weaknesses and strengths in the other team [team-wise and individually]. He is really big on the [imaginary] third circle [in front of each team’s net]. You have to protect your own net and get to the other team’s net.”
Montgomery hired Standbrook as a part-time coaching consultant when he was the head coach and general manager of the Dubuque Fighting Saints of the United States Hockey League.
Montgomery left Dubuque to become the head coach at Denver in 2013. UMaine also was seeking a head coach, but Montgomery said at the time he was never contacted about the job by UMaine officials.
UMaine hired Red Gendron, who had been an assistant the late Shawn Walsh’s UMaine staff during the 1992-1993 season.
Montgomery said there were a lot of similarities between that UMaine team and his Denver team, though he noted the UMaine squad was the “best team in the country from day one.” His Pioneers became the nation’s best team over the second half of the season, winning 18 of their last 19 games.
“In the first half of the year, we managed to find ways to win games because we played real good team defense and we got real good goaltending [from Tanner Jaillet]. In the second half, we became a dynamic scoring team, and that’s when I thought we had a chance to win it,” Montgomery said.
Montgomery said winning a national championship as a player or a coach never gets old.
“You feel exhausted, but you can’t sleep because there are so many great memories,” he said.
There are four NHL coaching jobs open (Dallas, Los Angeles, Florida and Vancouver) and Montgomery said he would follow Walsh’s philosophy if he gets approached by any of them about becoming the head coach.
Walsh felt if another team, college or pro, was willing to reach out to him, he owed it to them to at least hear what they had to say.
“I’ll listen. But it would take a perfect situation for me to leave. I love my quality of life in Denver and I love the institution that I work for,” UMaine’s all-time leading point-getter (301 points) who played 122 regular-season games in the NHL despite not being drafted, said.
“You don’t have the same control of your life in the NHL that you do in college,” the Montreal native and father of three youngsters under the age of 6 added.