here. Care to hear a little secret?
has been average this season…at best.
There. I said
it. I wasn’t hit by lightning. No one has burned me in effigy.
And I haven’t found a horse head in my bed.
the truth. So why are others downplaying – or making excuses
for – Montoya’s disappointing showing as if they were
Karl Rove defending George W. Bush’s National Guard service
you imagine what fans in Boston would be saying if Matti Kaltiainen
were struggling this mightily? Or in Minneapolis if Kellen Briggs
was fighting the puck? Or in North Dakota, where crucifying goalies
has become a mid-winter tradition?
are 58 teams in college hockey that would like to have [Montoya]
on their team,” said Fox Sports Net Detroit analyst Fred
Pletsch during Saturday’s broadcast of the Wolverines’
game at Western Michigan.
Ann Arbor News, U-M beat writer Antoine Pitts admitted
Montoya “is giving up a lot of goals but remains the one
goalie in the [CCHA] you want in net when games are on the line.”
This is mere
speculation on my part, but it’d be a surprise if every
Division I school would replace its current starter with a guy
who stands 45th in the country in goals against average. And Montoya
has been a pretty good big-game goaltender during his first two
seasons at Michigan, but my mortgage money would go behind someone
other than the owner of the 65th-best save percentage among the
76 netminders eligible to be ranked in that category.
writer’s viewpoint, Montoya is still riding a wave of momentum
generated at the 2004 World Junior Championship and the United
States’ gold medal win. It made him the hottest goaltending
prospect in last summer’s NHL Entry Draft. Keep in mind
that Montoya might not have seen the ice for the U.S. team if
not for a freak injury to Maine’s Jimmy Howard.
not hard to understand why writers and analysts would defend his
mediocre performances. Maybe it’s because of his Horatio
Alger-like life story, the youngest son of a single mother who
emigrated from Cuba to escape the Castro regime. Maybe it’s
because he’s a smart, confident, dynamic young man with
movie-star looks, an ideal fit for a large-market NHL team such
as the one that drafted him last summer, the New York Rangers.
of the reasons why barbed criticism hasn’t rained upon Montoya,
the fact remains that he’s not the same goaltender he was
one year ago. On the ice, he looks tired, both mentally and physically.
His reactions are slow. The aggressive goaltender who liked to
challenge shooters and play the puck out of his end with what
some would consider reckless abandon seems downright passive.
And given some of the soft goals he’s allowed – especially
early in games – one wonders about his focus.
a select few are publicly questioning Montoya’s effectiveness,
it’s safe to assume a fair number of Michigan fans privately
harbor doubts about his play. He has more wins than any goalie
other than Briggs, yet opponents feel he’s beatable. More
than a few NHL scouts question whether he was worth the sixth
overall pick in last year’s draft.
junior Noah Ruden proved during last month’s Great Lakes
Invitational that he’s a capable backup, Michigan coach
Red Berenson will stick with his starting goaltender for the long
haul. Perhaps that’s the problem. Since August 2003, Montoya
Attended the U.S. National Junior Evaluation Camp in Lake Placid
in August 2003,
• Started a half-dozen games for the U.S. at the 2004 WJC,
• Played in 40 of Michigan’s 43 games during the 2003-04
• Prepped for the 2004 NHL Draft, which included a visit
to Tampa with a handful of other top prospects during the Stanley
Cup Finals and a weekend in Toronto for physical testing and meetings
with team officials,
• Spent a few days in late June in Raleigh, N.C., site of
last year’s draft,
• Took a week-long trip to New York City in July for the
Rangers’ rookie camp,
• Jetted to Grand Forks last August for the most recent
U.S. National Junior Evaluation Camp,
• Took to the ice with his Wolverine teammates in early
October, and has played in 20 games for the Maize and Blue, and
• Played all but 22 minutes for Team USA at the 2005 WJC
en route to a 3-4-0 record, a 3.36 GAA and a .904 save percentage.
wonder why Montoya has wilted like an out-of-shape offensive lineman
during the first week of two-a-days under Tom Coughlin? Terry
Sawchuk had more leisure time.
weeks remain in the regular season. The way Michigan – and
the rest of the CCHA – is playing, the Wolverines will have
the conference regular-season title sewn up by Valentine’s
Day. So, Red, as much as it may pain you, give Al a breather.
Let him witness a handful of games from the bench. Or the press
box. Hell, let him stay at home, turn the lights down, make a
big bucket of popcorn and catch up on TiVo’d episodes of
playoff time, you’ll have a refreshed, relaxed, refocused
goaltender. You know, the kind that can steal a game or two if
necessary. Vintage Montoya.
And if that
happens, I promise not to keep it a secret.