In the final week of March 1991, Jim Montgomery arrived at the Frozen Four as the University of Maine’s leading scorer. He left with a lasting lesson.
The Bruins coach, whose 19-3-0 squad hosts the defending Stanley Cup champion Avalanche Saturday night, is like many of his professional peers: He believes that adherence to habits, and ignorance of outcomes, is the proper mind-set for consistent success. As for where he learned that, he pointed to a day more than 31 years ago in St. Paul.
Maine had a date with Northern Michigan in the national semifinals thanks in large part to its sophomore center, who put up a goal and four assists in a two-game sweep of Minnesota in the previous round. Montgomery was riding high.
But in his first Frozen Four, Montgomery recalled Thursday, he “failed miserably.” He had “zero impact on the game, because mentally I froze. I allowed the stage to become bigger in my mind and it consumed me.”
Video highlights of that 5-3 loss to Northern Michigan couldn’t be found. Montgomery is not mentioned in any of the three stories published afterward by The Maine Campus, the student newspaper. A recap spoke glowingly of his right wing, Jean-Yves Roy, who had a hat trick.
The newspaper’s coverage described a delegation of nearly 1,000 Black Bears fans descending upon St. Paul in 22-degree weather. It set the scene at the Radisson Hotel, noting that it was the center of the action that week for fans of Maine, Boston University, Clarkson, and Northern Michigan.
Montgomery remembered it as the place his fear arose.
“I remember coming down from my room to get ready, to get on the bus to go to the game,” he said. “Our college band was there playing our fight song. There must have been 500 people in the lobby of the hotel. I was like, ‘Oh my God, this game’s bigger than any game I’ve played.’
“And I choked. And I said, ‘I’m never going to let that happen again.’ I started honing in my own process that allowed me to have success. And I’ve got to admit, I don’t think I ever choked again.”
He surely didn’t two years later, when he lifted Maine (42-1-2) to the NCAA championship with a hat trick in the third period of the title game against Lake Superior State.
Montgomery also was a point-per-game AHL player over eight years, including playoffs. He won a title with AHL Philadelphia in 1998, and coached champions in the USHL (Dubuque, 2011 and ‘13) and NCAA (Denver, 2017).
His Bruins, hunting for their first Stanley Cup since 2011, are preparing to host an Avalanche team that built a champion after lean years and playoff failures. Colorado lost in the second round three years in a row before winning it all last season.
“You could see it, they were getting poised to win a Cup,” said Montgomery, who faced them in last year’s second round as a St. Louis assistant. “They had that second-round jinx on them. We were there in St. Louis and we won that Game 5, and we were like, ‘Well, hopefully it’s in their heads again.’
“They came out in Game 6 and really took it to us. When they won that, it seemed like they dominated Edmonton and pretty much dominated Tampa Bay.”
Beating the Avalanche Saturday would extend the Bruins’ league record for consecutive home wins to start a season to 14. They are the fifth team in NHL history to win 20 straight games at home (regular season and playoffs), a streak that dates to April 14 of last season.
“I think we know it’s there, but it’s not something we focus on,” Montgomery said after Tuesday night’s home win over the Lightning. “For us, it’s more about our process that allows us to have positive outcomes. I think Patrice Bergeron is very driven that way mentally.
“I’ve always been a process-oriented coach. We’re together in how we think things should work. I think everybody in that room believes in that process.”
Nice response from Maroon
The mocking of Pat Maroon’s weight by NESN’s Jack Edwards caused the Lightning forward to turn to charity.
“He is listed at 238 pounds,” Edwards said on Tuesday’s broadcast. “That was Day 1 of training camp. I’ve got a feeling he’s had a few more pizzas between then and now.”
Edwards went on to joke that fasting for Maroon “is like four hours without a meal,” before praising him as a player and for winning three Stanley Cup titles.
Maroon, 34, said he was donating $2,000 — in Edwards’s name — to Tampa Bay Thrives, a nonprofit that focuses on mental health and substance abuse issues. He told reporters in Philadelphia Thursday that donations had ballooned to $50,000, adding that he was thinking of those struggling to lose weight.
“If we’re out on the ice and guys are chirping and guys are doing those things, that’s part of hockey,” Maroon said. “But someone on national TV when millions of listeners are watching or tuned in, and he just basically cut me down? Uncalled for, unnecessary. I don’t understand why he did that.
“But it is what it is. It’s over, it’s done. And we turned a negative into a positive.”
Stralman ponders next move
Anton Stralman skated on his own before Thursday’s practice. The 36-year-old defenseman, who cleared waivers and was assigned to AHL Providence, is determining his next career move. “I think he’s on his own trying to figure things out,” said Montgomery, deferring further questions to general manager Don Sweeney … Craig Smith, who left last Friday’s game against the Hurricanes with an upper-body injury, was a full participant.