Bulldogs Shutdown Senior 'D' Man Arrived as Walk-On Forward
by Dan Myers/CHN Staff
ST. PAUL, Minn. For two weeks back in the summer of 2007, Mike Montgomery thought his hockey career was over.
After two good, but not great, seasons with the Southern Minnesota Express in the North American Hockey League, college hockey teams weren't calling to offer him anything. Montgomery had just been accepted to the University of Minnesota Duluth as an undergraduate — he wasn't even planning on playing hockey — when he said he got the best phone call of his life.
"I thought I was just going to go to school up there," Montgomery, a Lino Lakes, Minn., native said. "It ended up working out where they asked me to come play too."
In the beginning, nothing was promised. As a freshman, he played in nine games as a forward, a position he had played his entire life. It's where he scored the game winning goal in a 1-0 victory in the championship game of the 2004 Minnesota State High School Hockey championship game as a junior at Centennial High School.
But when a rash of injuries struck the Bulldog blueline midway through his freshman season, Montgomery was asked to play defense in order to keep other guys healthy. By the start of his sophomore season, Montgomery had been moved to defense full time.
By the end of his junior season, National Hockey League teams were ready to sign him to a professional contract. But Montgomery passed, instead taking a chance that the Bulldogs would have an opportunity to capture the program's first national championship.
"The coaches, they gave me an opportunity. They took a chance on me," Montgomery said. "I wanted to see this thing through."
Montgomery — who has gone from walk-on forward to senior captain — will have that chance beginning Thursday when the Bulldogs face off against Notre Dame in the first national semifinal at 4 p.m.
"The guys have a lot of respect for him in that room," said Bulldogs head coach Scott Sandelin. "He's had a good year, maybe not numbers wise, but he's been a valuable guy for us back there.
"His best hockey has come over the last month," Sandelin said. "In Bridgeport, he was outstanding for us."
While freshman sensation Justin Faulk — Montgomery's defensive partner since winter break — has been racking up the points, the senior veteran has become a shutdown defenseman. At 6-foot-3, 210 pounds, Montgomery has the size professional scouts love. As a former forward, Montgomery can skate. He's also chipped in with 37 points over the last three seasons.
"Controlling gaps," Montgomery said was the biggest thing he tried to remember during his development. "You don't want to be too close that guys use you as a screen. But you don't want to be so far that guys go right around you either.
"Besides that, you don't want to think too much. You just want to keep things simple."
Faulk says having Montgomery around has made him a better hockey player.
"He's one of those guys who does everything well," Faulk said. "He can go out there against anyone and we know he's going to get the job done. He does the smart things, the simple things and overall for the team, he's done a great job."
Perhaps it's fitting that Montgomery tends to lead by example. "He's not a rah-rah guy," Sandelin says. For a guy who once thought his hockey career was finished, it's weekends like this one at the Xcel Energy Center that are all the more special.
"It's almost like a bonus for me," Montgomery said. "For two weeks I thought I was done playing hockey. I'm just grateful for the opportunity we have."