ARLINGTON, Va. — Not even 24 hours after the NHL instituted a new code of conduct pertaining to coaching staffs, the Dallas Stars on Tuesday fired second-year bench boss Jim Montgomery, dismissing the former University of Maine star for “unprofessional conduct,” according to Dallas management.
Here some 1,300 miles away, two of Montgomery’s ex-players, Bruins forwards Danton Heinen and Brett Ritchie, expressed surprise at the move following an afternoon workout at the Capitals’ practice facility.
Now a fourth-year pro, Heinen played two seasons (2014-16) for Montgomery at the University of Denver and reiterated here that he felt Montgomery was a “great coach . . . and helped me improve as a player . . . Otherwise, I can’t really comment on that situation.”
Montgomery, noted Heinen, was hard on players “but also fair” during the forward’s two years on the coach’s Pioneer roster.
“I think he was a good teacher,” said Heinen, 24, who is poised to play in his 194th NHL game Wednesday night when the Bruins face the Capitals. “He taught me a lot.”
Montgomery’s dismissal, added Heinen, “was tough to see . . . I have a good relationship with him, and, like I say, I don’t know the whole situation. But it’s tough to see anyone let go.”
Stars management revealed little about the dismissal, other than making note of the 50-year-old Montgomery’s “unprofessional conduct” in a statement. Stars players were apprised of the move as they reported to their home arena Tuesday in preparation of their game vs. the Devils. Ex-Bruins coach Rick Bowness, one of Montgomery’s assistants, was named interim coach.
Ritchie, 26, played across five seasons in Dallas prior to leaving last July 1 and signing as an unrestricted free agent with the Bruins. He played 53 games last year with Dallas, which was Montgomery’s first season there after a five-year run in Denver.
“We had a good season, you know, went to the second round [of the playoffs], and everyone seemed to like him,” said Ritchie. “Sort of weird that that came up today, to be honest with you.”
By Ritchie’s eye, Montgomery was not particularly hard on players.
“No, not really,” he said. “You see this stuff going on with other coaches — player abuse and all this other stuff — but I don’t think that was an issue.”
Montgomery became the fourth NHL coach dismissed in recent weeks, following Mike Babcock (Toronto), Bill Peters (Calgary), and John Hynes (New Jersey). Peters was forced to resign when one of his former players from AHL days, Akim Aliu, went public with an incident 10 years earlier in which Peters assailed him with racist remarks.
Aliu, in his initial comments on Twitter, called Peters a Babcock protégé, which led to other former players adding a chorus of complaints about Babcock’s style over the span of his career.
Hynes was dismissed the old-fashioned way: after a horrible start to a new season for a club that anticipated much better after offseason roster upgrades.
On Monday, following a league Board of Governors meeting, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman announced groundbreaking code of conduct guidelines pertaining to its coaching staffs.
“I read through it quickly last night and a little more this morning,” said Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy. “I’m on board with it.
“I feel — and players can speak to it — we’ve created a good culture here in terms of a safe workplace, an appropriate workplace.
“As a coach, I feel our staff, we are tough on [players] sometimes, but we’re fair. We want to hold them accountable, but not in the manner of what [coaches] have gotten let go for. We don’t put our hands on players. We’re not using racial language, slurs in the locker room.
“We’re just trying to make them better players and better people, and we feel like treating them as people first is the most important way to go.”
Over the years, Cassidy said, he’s had coaches that were vocal, specifying Brian Kilrea (OHL Ottawa) and Darryl Sutter (Blackhawks), but he enjoyed playing for both of them.
“That’s years ago, but they never crossed the line,” Cassidy said. “Even though they were vocal, and it was probably a different time back then. But it still didn’t make that stuff acceptable, and they didn’t do it — and I am actually glad they didn’t, looking back now. They were tough but fair, and they taught me how to play the game.”
Piles of fun
Despite being in the midst of a tailspin (0-2-1), the Bruins were chipper throughout their workout here, wrapping up practice with a fake line brawl that included a lighthearted pig pile on Tuukka Rask (in net for a lackluster 5-2 loss the night before in Ottawa) . . . Patrice Bergeron, who returned Monday after a seven-game stay on the injury list, looked fresh and quick on his skates, back centering old linemates David Pastrnak and Brad Marchand . . . Pastrnak (25 goals), who has the Capitals’ Alexander Ovechkin (21 goals) as his closest competition in the league’s goal-scoring race, has gone a season-high four straight games without a strike. Ovechkin has potted only one in his last four games. “Both of them put themselves in good spots,” Cassidy said. “And their release is excellent and heavy. That’s the common thread. On the power play, they’re usually shooting from the same spot [left circle], and I think five-on-five they tend to find open ice really well. Then it doesn’t take long for them to get their shot off. That’s why they’re elite.” Ovechkin has landed a league-high 153 shots this season — a category he leads almost every season. Prior to Tuesday night’s games, Pastrnak was fourth in the NHL with 121 shots on net . . . The Bruins fly out of here tomorrow night and will face the Lightning Thursday in Tampa, then wrap up the trip Saturday in Sunrise, Fla., vs. the Panthers.