DALLAS — When Stars general manager Jim Nill started his third coaching search in five years, he took a look at the talented roster that is still among the youngest in the NHL.
Their new coach is certainly accustomed to dealing with youth.
Former University of Maine star Jim Montgomery was introduced Friday by the Stars, becoming the second head coach in three years to go directly from the college ranks to the NHL.
“I think the game is changing, and in the end it’s dealing with people,” Nill said. “It’s dealing with the younger players, and on top of it, winning, and he’s done that.”
Montgomery was 125-57-26 the past five seasons at the University of Denver, including a national title in 2016-17. As a player, he was part of a national championship at Maine in 1993.
“We loved our life in Denver and I loved my job, and the only way I was going to move from a great position was for an opportunity that was better,” said the 48-year-old Montgomery, who has four young children.
Before Denver, he spent three seasons as head coach and general manager for Dubuque of the United States Hockey League. The Fighting Saints were 118-45-21 from 2010-13, when they won two USHL titles.
Montgomery is a departure from the two first two hires by Nill, grizzled NHL veterans Lindy Ruff and Ken Hitchcock.
Hitchcock, who coached the Stars to their only Stanley Cup title in 1999, returned as their coach for only one season before retiring last month and becoming a consultant for the team. The Stars have missed the playoffs eight of the last 10 seasons.
Philadelphia has made the playoffs in two of the three seasons since Dave Hakstol was hired by the Flyers out of collegiate power North Dakota.
Montgomery inherits a Dallas squad led high-scoring All-Star forwards Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin, one of the top-scoring defensemen in John Klingberg, and goalie Ben Bishop, also a former UMaine standout. Benn, the team captain, was among those attending Montgomery’s introductory news conference.
“When I look at this lineup, I really get excited,” Montgomery said. “It has everything you want. It has star power. … You have depth, you have size, you have skill, you have speed at every position.”
The Stars were solidly positioned for the playoffs in March before an eight-game losing streak that started with six losses on the road. Still, Dallas improved significantly in a year, finishing with 92 points under Hitchcock after only 79 in the last of their four seasons with Ruff. The 79 points were the second-fewest in a full season for the team since moving to Dallas in 1993-94.
Montgomery played in 122 career NHL games from 1993-2003, his last nine games coming with the Stars. He also played for St. Louis, Montreal, Philadelphia and San Jose.
“I hope my coaching career is going to last longer,” Montgomery joked.
Only two head coaches had gone directly from college to the NHL before Hakstol and Montgomery.
Ned Harkness was the first, when he went from Cornell to Detroit in 1970, and was 12-22-4 as head coach before becoming the Red Wings GM. Bob Johnson went from Wisconsin to Calgary in 1982 and had a 234-188-58 record in six seasons as an NHL head coach. Johnson team’s made the playoffs in all six of his seasons, five in Calgary and his only season in Pittsburgh for a Stanley Cup title in 1991.
Nill said his final list of 10 candidates includes five veteran coaches and five others who could be given an opportunity as an NHL coach.
“He’s a guy that’s been on our radar screen,” Nill said of Montgomery. “He had that passion, that fire. He’s built his resume up the right way. It’s about winning, and he’s found a way to do it, and especially a way to do it in today’s game.”