They say if you’re going to talk the talk, you had better walk the walk. Throughout the year, certainly one with its hills and valleys, the University of Denver head hockey coach Jim Montgomery has been doing his fair share of talking…at least to me.
But hey, don’t a lot of coaches talk too? Isn’t that what DI college coaches do? What makes “Monty” so special or different?
When you listen to Coach Montgomery talk, other than the Canadian accent, you’re struck by his sheer knowledge and understanding of the game. He talks about strategy. He talks about his film study sessions. He talks about his love for his players. And he talks about what he sees on the ice.
In an era of closed-off coaches and closed-door problem solving, Coach Jim Montgomery is an anachronism in Division I athletics. As an undersized hockey player, he consistently delivered high quality play in both college and the NHL. He played with direct communication and a no nonsense work ethic. He coaches the exact same way. He will say what’s on his mind.
After every game, Montgomery will give an honest, to-the-point assessment of what happened on the ice:
After top line forward Trevor Moore had put forth a few lackluster games: “Trevor Moore needs to be better. Too many pucks were bouncing over his stick tonight.”
After a particularly tough, physical sweep of Minnesota-Duluth: “[UMD’s] a frustrated team. They’re not scoring goals and they’re not winning games. It’s tough when you were the preseason number 1.”
During a long power play drought early in the season, Monty repeatedly took responsibility for the lack of power play goals. After the drought came to an end against Notre Dame, he explained that he studied the Boston Bruins’ power play (then the best power play scoring team in the NHL) and made some changes based on what he saw. He even took responsibility for the structure and duration of practice sessions which he felt directly led to the team’s December skid (outscored 20-5 against North Dakota and St. Cloud).
After a poor showing from the crowd and student section at a Western Michigan game, said, “I was disappointed with our crowd tonight. You would hope that our fans would be a little bit excited with the momentum we’ve been building since the New Year. I was hoping the student section was going to give us life…but they didn’t.”
I could go on and on. After a notoriously smooth but guarded George Gwozdecky, Jim Montgomery is a breath of fresh air for Pioneer Nation. He does not hesitate to call his players out when they need to play better. He doesn’t hesitate to call himself out when he needs to improve on something. Jim Montgomery simply doesn’t hesitate to speak his mind.
From the outside, Coach Montgomery certainly seems like a coach any player would love to play for. He loves his players unconditionally but at the same time, he expects a lot from them. He demands from his players 200 feet of “relentless” Pioneers hockey. If any player doesn’t give that relentless effort, he will not think twice before pulling him off the ice.
After Tanner Jaillet opened the UMD series poorly, Montgomery quickly pulled him and later said, “I felt we needed a change. I thought that Tanner’s body language was a little bit negative, especially after that first goal.”
Monty doesn’t shy away from the expectations of a program with a winning history. He calls on DU’s hockey past and revels in DU’s tradition. From the annual ticket campouts, pre-season pro hockey camps, and other hockey-centered events, his intentions are clear – he wants to add to his program’s history, regardless of the barriers in his way. Montgomery is all in on the Pioneers and he’s been walking the walk since he agreed to become the program’s leader.
He must shake his head in quiet disbelief when scores of students head up into the mountains on weekend ski trips when there is a big home hockey series. What could be more important than hockey at DU?
The University of Denver is known as a hockey school around the country yet throughout the 2015-16 campaign, there has been nary a sellout. Coach Montgomery has proven that he’s walking the walk. He just wants everyone else to do the same.