Monty and the Gray Ghost
The Complete Story
See all of CHN's Tournament coverage: articles, brackets, history and more.
CHICAGO Largely lost in the aftermath of Saturday's national championship game, was the ongoing relationship between Denver coach Jim Montgomery and his former coach, Grant Standbrook. It's a relationship that goes back to 1988, Standbrook's first year as an assistant coach at Maine, and leads right up until this very day.
Standbrook won three national championships as an assistant coach, and you might say he was part of another one Saturday night.
Montgomery mentioned in the post-game press conference that he had communicated with the 79-year old Standbrook, who is in the hospital battling cancer.
"It's just a special bond when you're part of a special program and a special family and you have that kind of commitment to each other," Montgomery said.
Being in the hospital didn't stop Standbrook from giving Montgomery tips, even while the game was going on.
He and Standbrook discussed ideas before the game, but even during the game, Standbrook was texting Montgomery with tips from what he'd seen on television from the hospital.
"He told me what he had seen. He's always about Xs and Os first, and then he goes to mentality," Montgomery said. "He'd seen a couple of things we had to block out well on the rush against Duluth because they go so hard to the net.
"I spent three years coaching (in the USHL in Dubuque, where Standbrook was a consultant) and four years as a student athlete under him, and I learned so much from him, he just understands what a team needs to be doing and focusing on to win championships. And he got that, and just explained to me those parts."
Standbrook, who is actually a Minnesota-Duluth graduate (1961), was a head coach at Dartmouth from 1970-75. He became an assistant coach at Wisconsin under Bob Johnson and Jeff Sauer, before going to Maine in 1988 to work with Shawn Walsh.
He spent the next 20 years as Maine's No. 1 recruiter, earning a reputation for going to the darkest corners of North America to find players that no one else had unearthed. It led to two national championships and many more Frozen Four appearances, that extended into Tim Whitehead's era as head coach. He famously found Dustin Penner at a junior college, just after a growth spurt. He went on recruiting trips without even telling his head coach where he was going, lest any other team would find out by accident.
"That's why he's called the Gray Ghost," Montgomery said.
And Standbrook's unique methods and instincts is exactly how he found Montgomery for Maine in the first place.
It was 1988, Standbrook's first year at Maine, and Walsh had narrowed down a list of recruits to 40 names he wanted Standbrook and fellow then-assistant Bruce Crowder to evaluate. Standbrook didn't like any of the first 10. Walsh was starting to wonder if Standbrook was the right guy for the job.
So Standbrook and Crowder continued on, and one day, had two more names in particular to go see play. They sat on opposite ends of the rink so as not to influence each other's opinions.
Afterwards, Standbrook says to Crowder, "I love those two guys." Crowder was relieved, until Standbrook says, "No, no, no, not those two, the other two."
"So we had to phone Shawn and tell him, and Shawn was raging mad," Standbrook told me in 2002. "We just held the phone at arm's length, because I had to tell him that I found two other guys that I liked better. He was wild. [So] he says, 'OK, I'm coming on the next trip.'
"So the three of us fly out on a private flight to watch a game in Massena [N.Y.], and my two guys that I liked put on a clinic. [Shawn] says, 'This is the last trip I'll ever go on.'"
One guy was Brian Downey.
The other was Jim Montgomery.
"I was at a rink and we were playing on the road," Montgomery said, recalling the same events, "and I know another school was supposed to talk to me and they were coming to watch me play, and he was down outside our dressing room right after, and my coach said, 'There's a school here that wants to talk to you.' So I went out and said, 'Hi, you must be so-and-so from this school,' and he's like, 'No, I'm not, I'm Grant Standbrook from Maine — someone else is recruiting you already?'"
The rest is history.
As tough as things are now, Montgomery said he expects Standbrook to find the same roundabout path to winning his current fight.
"It's new (the cancer), and you know what, he's going to beat it, because he's an amazing man," Montgomery said. "He's read eight books on cancer and he's fighting it every way he can."