A hockey coach’s mind is always turning, no matter the level of play. Every team has its own personality. It is a personnel business, after all, with a roster of two dozen players and their assigned numbers.
Bruins bench boss Jim Montgomery is a numbers guy, often to the point of omitting names from the equation. It’s the numbers that are always on the tip of his tongue.
Names, while obviously important, are tagged on as assists, if they’re mentioned at all by the coach.
Just one example:
“We’re looking good right now,” Montgomery mused early into his club’s blistering start, a couple of key players yet to play. “It’s even more exciting to think what we’ll be when 63 and 73 are back in the lineup.”
For those without a roster always within reach, or not as numerically inclined, Numbers 63 and 73 on the Black-and-Gold roster are Brad Marchand and Charlie McAvoy, respectively.
For the record, Montgomery’s method is not the least bit disrespectful or dismissive. It seems more a sign of an occupied, busy mind. Numbers rule. Consonants and vowels can clutter. Contrary to what most of the Baby Boomer generation grew up believing, we all think and learn differently, and there are infinite ways to express what we know, how we think, how we get to where we’re going.
In the long-ago TV show, “Dragnet,” officer Joe Friday was wont to say, “All we want are the facts, ma’am ... just the facts.”
With Montgomery, media covering the team often only get the numbers … just the numbers.
To wit, Montgomery following, say, a morning practice:
“I’m keeping the second line the same tonight: 18-46-88. But I’ve got some flexibility, because 18 can play the middle, so I can move him around to get him some extra minutes. And 88, we know what he’s done with 63-37, so I can move him in for 74 if we need a jump.”
Again, if letters are more to your liking: Pavel Zacha (18), David Krejci (46), and David Pastrnak (88), plus Marchand (63), Patrice Bergeron (37), and Jake DeBrusk (74).
Monty Hall kept things simple on his TV game show, “Let’s Make a Deal.” Choices were Door No. 1, No. 2, or No. 3. Montgomery is more the Carl Sagan of coaches, only with countless stars (some bigger than others) to give a sweater number.
Following the club’s Saturday workout in Brighton, Montgomery chuckled when one of the daily beat reporters asked the reason behind his penchant for numbers over names.
“I’m better with numbers than I am names, that’s why,” Montgomery said, tapping his fingers along the sides of the podium. “Like sometimes, you see me, I’m searching — like ‘Marchy’ — but if I say 63 then I know.”
When he makes out his game roster prior to puck drop, the 1-2-3′s are Montgomery’s SOP.
“Because when I write out my card list,” he noted, “I just put numbers down.”
None of this is new for Montgomery. He’s been a numbers guy from Day 1, dating to roughly 20 years ago when he was coaching and scouting at the college level.
“Ever since I was scouting and I was an assistant coach at RPI,” he said, “I’d go, ‘This 74 is a right shot, he’s a smooth-skating center … what’s his name?”
As he recalled those days, Montgomery changed his voice midsentence, comically grumbling, the way your elderly uncle might when stumped for a name at the Thanksgiving dinner table.
“Ahh ... I’ve got to go look up  in the program,” said the coach.
All the numbers are good at the moment for the Bruins. As of Sunday morning, less than 48 hours after they boosted their record to a sizzling 18-3-0, they were tied with the Devils for first place (36 points) in the NHL’s overall standings.
The biggest question ahead of Tuesday night’s visit by the Lightning is in the Bruins net. No. 35, their No. 1 goalie, was hurt in Thursday’s win over Carolina. That likely means No. 1 will get the start against Tampa Bay, probably backed up by No. 30, who earlier this season won his only start, vs. the Sabres in Buffalo. (Linus Ullmark is 35, Jeremy Swayman 1, and Keith Kinkaid 30, for reference.)
If you’re struggling to get those numbers down to memory it’s OK, there’s time. We’re only a quarter of the way through the 82-game season.
For now, do what they’ve done in hockey since the invention of the rubber puck: take a number and get even on the next shift.
Kevin Paul Dupont can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.