Photo courtesy: Kathryn Scott Osler, The Denver Post
Barely a week after the Calgary Sun reported that University of Denver hockey head coach Jim Montgomery was one of the finalists for the Calgary Flames’ open head coach position, DU announced that it had extended Montgomery’s contract by five years. Montgomery signed his name on the dotted line, and the rest is history…or so we hope.
Because DU is a private institution, it is not required to disclose the terms of such contracts, so it’s difficult to know exactly how much Montgomery will be getting paid over the next five years or what kind of buy-out there is on both sides. All we know for sure is that Montgomery’s new contract runs through the 2020-2021 season.
Regardless of whether you think that the timing of the extension is questionable given the news out of Calgary, this was the right move for DU.
In just three years’ time, Montgomery has taken a program that perennially struggled to make it out of the first round of the NCAA Tournament to heights not seen at Evans and University in over a decade. In his three years, ‘Monty’ has led the Pioneers to three NCAA Tournaments, three NCHC Frozen Faceoffs including a conference championship in his first year, and the program’s first Frozen Four berth since the 2005 championship under George Gwozdecky.
Montgomery’s meteoric rise was never going to go unnoticed. Sure, Denver is a historic college hockey powerhouse, but unless you’re Jerry York coaching a program like Boston College, when the NHL comes calling, you answer. If the Calgary Sun‘s article is to be believed (there is no reason it shouldn’t be), DU almost lost Jim Montgomery in the middle of the night.
DU’s athletic director Peg Bradley-Doppes isn’t blind to reality. She recognized that under Gwozdecky’s leadership, the Pioneers had hit a brick wall. With the benefit of hindsight, she made a necessary change. She saw an opportunity for growth in the sport of lacrosse, so all she did was snag the greatest coach in the history of the sport, Bill Tierney, and bring him to Denver.
There is a growing trend in the NHL of hiring former college head coaches as former North Dakota head coach Dave Hakstol (Flyers) and former Western Michigan head coach Jeff Blashill (Red Wings) led their respective teams to the playoffs in their first year.
Bradley-Doppes may have seen the writing on the wall. This trend combined with the report out of Calgary may have required action on her part.
On the other hand, Montgomery earned this extension. Take away both the NHL’s recent hiring trend and the article in the Calgary Sun, Jim Montgomery still would have been worthy of an extension. What he’s done with this program is nothing short of remarkable and he deserves another five years to continue the tradition of championship hockey at Magness Arena.
In his first year alone, after a few of the program’s most talented players left the program early to sign with NHL franchises (Scott Mayfield, Juho Olkinuora, and Nick Shore), he turned what probably should have been branded a “rebuilding year” into an NCHC championship and an unlikely berth in the NCAA Tournament. Even though Monty’s first group of Pios got bounced in the first round by a very good Boston College team, the tone was set going forward.
In his second year, Montgomery did what Gwozdecky failed to do in his final few years behind DU’s bench: get out of the second round of the NCAA Tournament.
After taking just three years to lead the Pioneers back to the Frozen Four, it has become clear that Montgomery is absolutely the right man to lead the Pioneers for the foreseeable future. His hockey-sense is second to none, his passion is inspiring, and his love for the Pioneers knows no bounds.
It has only been three years, but it feels like Monty has been in Denver for a lifetime. While that may not be true, Pioneer hockey fans can be excited to get at least another five years of him in crimson and gold.
By extending Jim Montgomery, the DU athletics department did right by its alumni, fans, students, and student-athletes. Monty is here to stay and that’s the right thing for this program.