For much of the 20th century, General Motors proudly stamped the “Body by Fisher” logo on the cars it rolled off the Detroit assembly line. GM and Fisher wanted buyers to know they partnered to provide them with a quality, stylish set of wheels.
If the Bruins, an astounding 38-6-4 entering weekend play, stamped a logo on their 2022-23 model, it would read, “Mojo by Montgomery.”
The ride with the ever-positive Jim Montgomery behind the bench just keeps getting better.
“I’m amazed when I look at our record,” Montgomery said during a quiet moment during his club’s stop at Montreal’s Bell Centre the other day. “It just seems like every time we’re in a game, it’s in my head, ‘We’re gonna find a way.‘ And then it happens. It’s almost like it’s magical.”
Hired by the Bruins at sizable risk over the summer to replace the popular and successful Bruce Cassidy, Montgomery has been a 5-foot-10-inch dynamo of optimism since Day 1 on the job. He’ll be the boss behind the Atlantic Division bench for the NHL All Star Game on Saturday, staged fittingly in Sunrise, the town in Southern Florida named in the spirit of hope and light that every new day brings.
If there’s a surprise here, it’s only that Montgomery is not the mayor of a town named Sunrise. At least not yet. But he was there with the Bruins on Saturday night and we’ll see what happens when he returns ahead of Friday’s NHL skills competition.
It took the darkest day in Montgomery’s career, his destructive crash into alcoholism that brought his abrupt firing as the Dallas Stars coach in December 2019, to help him bring out what he now calls “the attitude of gratitude” that guides his thinking and defines his work.
In the end, he figures, it was that ugly crash and burn, coupled with his stint in rehab, that brought out his power of positivity.
“If you don’t learn why you’re not getting to the next level . . . ,” he said, noting how he has shaped and folded his own lessons learned into his coaching methods, “I mean, I had a horrific crash, right? An embarrassing one, anyway. But there’s been other moments when I’ve grown from lessons I’ve learned in life, because if you’re not continually trying to get better, then it’s usually ego, ego. Ego stops you from learning.”
We have yet to see how that Mojo by Montgomery will play when (if?) the Bruins hit a rough patch. Thus far, he’s had nary a discouraging word to say, but his Bruins own the league’s best record and they went into Saturday night’s matchup against the Panthers as the only NHL club this season yet to suffer back-to-back losses. Nothing much bad to say after 48 games and only a half-dozen regulation losses across four months.
No Bruins coach has been this successful off the hop. Likewise, none of his predecessors ever was so steadfastly positive, encouraging, or openly creative.
In a game in which flow of play and creative risk with the puck is typically stunted by coaches at every level, Montgomery has brought some old-time skate and shoot into the new era. He grew up in Montreal, watching the last days of the freewheeling Flying Frenchmen in the 1970s, the days when the dynastic Canadiens turned the game into an art form.
He also grew up playing in an era when coaches constantly underscored player mistakes and rarely offered praise, only realizing years later that he let the criticism linger and, in turn, prevent him from improving as a player. He spent 12 seasons playing pro, logging only 122 games and 34 points in the NHL
The 53-year-old Montgomery would be telling that 20-something Montgomery to forget the mistakes, move on quickly, seize the opportunity of the next shift — the mantra is central to his coaching now.
“I often think I’d be a much better hockey player,” he said. “There’s no doubt in my mind. Because I think it would have opened my mind just to being more positive as a player. My own biggest problem as a player was, when I screwed up, I lived with those things too long, and stewed on those things, and had no one telling me, ‘Just let it go.’ And [in that era], you were talked to about your mistakes and not about your positive assets.”
Exhibit A of today’s Mojo by Montgomery: the recent goal-scoring surge from Bruins defensemen.
As a group, the blues brothers rarely put one on the scoresheet for the better part of two months. Beginning in mid-November, they went 27 games with scoring only six goals. Toward the end of that fallow harvest, Montgomery began urging his blue liners to pinch more, and for the weak-side defensemen to activate into the offense, particularly for backdoor opportunities.
Et voila, beginning Jan. 15, the defensemen scored seven goals in a five-game stretch.
“They’ve encouraged all of us,” said Matt Grzelcyk, who scored in back-to-back games, Jan. 14 and 16. “Obviously, you don’t want to be too reckless, but I feel we all know the game pretty well.”
The benefits, noted Grzelcyk, go beyond just the goals. Even for defensemen, charged mainly with stopping the opposition’s goals, scoring breeds confidence. They’re using more in their tool kit, almost akin to using another side of their brains.
“Once it clicks a couple of times, the game kind of slows down a little bit,” Grzelcyk said. “I feel it helps both ways, too. When you feel better offensively with the puck, all of a sudden you are skating a little bit better, you’re more confident. Everyone likes to make plays, right? You don’t want just to play defense 24/7, so I think it helps to spend more time in the O-zone. It excites you a little bit more.”
In one-on-one video coaching sessions to review his play, said Grzelcyk, Montgomery is “serious, a light guy, but also serious, and really, really smart hockey-wise, we all know that.”
“More than anything, it’s encouraging,” added Grzelcyk when asked about the Montgomery method. “He’s, you know, ‘Trust yourself a little bit, because we have trust in you.’ I mean, that’s all you want to hear as a player.”
In-game, noted Montgomery, his attitude behind the bench is to remind players what they can do, not what they can’t do.
“I think it puts players in a better frame of mind to go out and make plays,” he said. “And in the end, the team that makes more plays — everyone’s going to make mistakes — but the team that makes more plays is going to win hockey games.”
Ullmark, Swayman have outside shot
Linus Ullmark (25-3-1) and Jeremy Swayman (12-3-3) entered weekend play positioned possibly to become only the ninth goaltending tandem in NHL history to each reach the 25-win plateau.
Bruins fans clutching their embossed AARP cards will recall that Hall of Famer Gerry Cheevers and steady sidekick Eddie Johnston (he who one day, as Penguins general manager, selected Mario Lemieux No. 1) were first to do it in the 1970-71 season.
The “Cheese” and “EJ” repeated the feat the following season — a back-to-back performance yet to be equaled. Grant Fuhr and Andy Moog, the only other tandem to do it twice (in Edmonton), didn’t do it in consecutive seasons.
It happened in Detroit in back-to-back seasons (2007-09), but first with Chris Osgood and Dominik Hasek, followed by Osgood and Ty Conklin. Like Swayman, Conklin grew up in Alaska and also starred in Hockey East (with New Hampshire).
Swayman, the presumed starter Saturday night in Sunrise, needs 13 wins over the remaining 34 games to enter the 25-25 club. An even split in net would mean he would have to record those wins over 17 starts. Tall order, but . . .
The 25-25 feat has been accomplished 10 times during the last 52 years:
Dallas, 2015-16: Antti Niemi (25), Kari Lehtonen (25)
Chicago, 2009-10: Niemi (26), Cristobal Huet (26)
Detroit, 2008-09: Ty Conklin (25), Chris Osgood (26)
Detroit, 2007-08: Osgood (27), Dominik Hasek (25)
San Jose, 2006-07: Vesa Toskala (26), Evgeni Nabokov (25)
Edmonton, 1985-86: Andy Moog (27), Grant Fuhr (29)
Edmonton, 1983-84: Moog (27), Fuhr (30)
New York Islanders, 1978-79: Billy Smith (25), Glenn Resch (26)
Boston, 1971-72: Eddie Johnston (27), Gerry Cheevers (27)
Boston, 1970-71: Johnston (30), Cheevers (27)
Bettman downplays any talk of tanking
NHL commissioner Gary Bettman made media rounds Wednesday in Montreal, the Bruins in town to face the Canadiens, and said that “nobody tanks,” noting the impediment presented by the weighted lottery.
Meanwhile, let’s go to the standings. As of Friday morning, only 5 points separated bottom-feeders San Jose, Arizona, Anaheim, Chicago, and Columbus. If they’re not tanking at this point, with their playoff DNQs all but chiseled into center ice, all five GMs should be shown the door for gross negligence.
Reminder: The prize at the bottom of the tank is Connor Bedard, potentially a generational center who entered weekend play with a 39-42–81 line in 33 games this season with WHL Regina. Few kids have his moxie and skill package, and he would provide any of those franchises with a huge cornerstone none of them has at the moment. Bedard also went 9-14–23 recently in seven games with Team Canada at the World Junior Championship.
The weighted lottery indeed removes the guarantee of the worst team getting the top pick, and potentially the E-Z Pass to righting the franchise. It may serve as a convenient tool for Bettman et al to dismiss the obvious, but it doesn’t dismiss the reality.
The NHL freefall is on, and for good reason, even if fans in those five rinks might find it hard to pony up $100 or more per seat while knowing what they’re watching is more exhibition than it is competition.
The Rangers should make the playoff cut in the East, but it sure would be an easier ride if the moribund Blueshirt power play added a little something to the party. Headed into Friday night’s visit by the Golden Knights — New York’s last game until after the All Star break — the Rangers had scored only two PPGs in the last eight games. Chris Kreider, who topped the league last season with 26 strikes on the advantage, was without a strike at man-up since Nov. 13. Opined the New York Post’s Larry Brooks, it has been as if Kreider “sold his soul to Mr. Applegate in exchange for 52 goals last year.” . . . The Sabres entered weekend play with five consecutive wins, the longest current unbeaten streak in the league. It looks, finally, like the Crossed Swords at least will play meaningful games in February and March, and possibly could squeeze out a wild-card invite for their first trip to the playoffs since 2011. Rasmus Dahlin (55 points, second only to Erik Karlsson’s 64 among defensemen as of Friday) has developed into a horse and should shatter Phil Housley’s franchise mark of 81 points by Buffalo D-men. Dahlin is one of four Sabres already to reach the 50-point plateau, joined by Tage Thompson (68), Alex Tuch (54), and the all-but-forgotten Jeff Skinner (50). League-wide, the Oilers were the only other club with four players at or above the 50 line: Connor McDavid (89), Leon Draisaitl (73), Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (58), and Zach Hyman (57) . . . Other than some pregame pictures, snapped by Bruins photographer Steve Babineau, said David Krejci, he didn’t set aside any mementos from his recent 1,000th career game. “I’ll keep those pictures — they are good reminders — and a game sheet as well,” noted the star pivot. “But that’s pretty much it.” Otherwise, the outpouring of messages he received home in Czechia and around the league were “crazy, a little bit overwhelming,” he said. “I can’t even keep up with my phone to write people back, way too many to keep up. It’s nice, you know, that they are thinking of me, but it’s been a little bit too much.” . . . The Hurricanes, who entertain the Bruins on Sunday, will be without Max Pacioretty for the rest of the way after he blew out his Achilles’ again only five games into his return. Even before he exited, the question existed if the Hurricanes could score enough to be considered a legit threat in the playoffs. Now that he’s gone, the ride looks even tougher. But with his $7 million cap hit off the books, maybe the Hurricanes make a bold play for Chicago’s Patrick Kane? They have the young players to get into a serious discussion, and Kane has that playoff-proven strike capability the Hurricanes need . . . Of those five teams most likely to land Bedard, three (Ducks, Sharks, and Canucks) play in the Pacific time zone. Bad enough that McDavid has been tucked away (hidden) in Mountain time . . . His Islanders sinking fast, Lou Lamoriello stuck by his coach, Lane Lambert, by saying this past week that the franchise failures thus far “are totally on me.” Canning Barry Trotz after last season made no sense. Lambert has been unable to shake his top forwards — Brock Nelson, Mathew Barzal, Anders Lee, and Anthony Beauvillier — from their scoring lethargy. And while it’s noble for Lamoriello to take the “it’s on me” stance, such wide-based scoring failures indeed point to coaching . . . If the Penguins go shopping for a goaltender, Bruins reserve Keith Kinkaid could be a wise pickup. Kinkaid was a solid acquisition pickup by Bruins GM Don Sweeney, but the outstanding play of Brandon Bussi, signed out of Western Michigan last spring, has kept Kinkaid from logging big minutes with AHL Providence . . . The Bruins now have hired three head coaches, including Jim Montgomery, each of whom is fluent in French. Claude Julien has had two tours behind Les Glorieux bench, the most recent after he was canned in Boston in 2017. But both Bruce Cassidy and now Montgomery would be candidates in Montreal if/when their current tours of duty come to an end . . . Kane, by the way, was the Calder (Rookie of the Year) winner when he broke in with his 72-point splash in 2007-08. Bruins goalie Andrew Raycroft won it in 2003-04, the same season a kid named Patrice Bergeron broke in with 39 points. Reminder: The finish is more important than the start.
Kevin Paul Dupont can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.