With interest dating back to last season and a few potential suitors following a handful of post-campaign coach firings around the league, it was only a matter of time before Jim Montgomery left his post at the University of Denver and headed for the NHL’s greener pastures. And it appears that time is now.
According to reports from TSN’s Bob McKenzie and Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman, and first reported by SBN College Hockey’s Chris Dilks, Montgomery is set to be announced as the Dallas Stars’ newest bench boss at some point this week. His hiring comes on the heels of Ken Hitchcock, who led Dallas to a 42-32-8 record this past season, retiring from coaching after 22 seasons in the NHL and moving into a consulting role with the Stars.
The hiring sees Montgomery, who has spent the past five seasons with the Pioneers, make the leap directly from the NCAA to the NHL, and it will be the first coaching gig for the 48-year-old in a professional league. He’s the first coach to make the direct leap from the college level to the top of the pro game since the Philadelphia Flyers hired Dave Hakstol in May 2015. Previously, Montgomery had served as a volunteer assistant with the University of Notre Dame, assistant with RPI and GM and coach of the USHL’s Dubuque Fighting Saints. His track record in Denver, however, is what put him on the NHL radar.
Since taking the job as Pioneers coach 2013-14, Denver has two NCHC titles, an NCAA crown and was named the NCAA coach of the year. He also had a hand in the development of several young NHLers, including Troy Terry, Henrik Borgstrom, Will Butcher and Danton Heinen.
It was that coach of the year and national title-winning campaign in 2016-17, too, that catapulted Montgomery into the NHL coaching mix last season. At one point, he was considered the frontrunner for the then-vacant Florida Panthers coaching job before removing himself from contention. Reports also connected him to the Kings, where he would have worked as an assistant under Los Angeles coach John Stevens. Montgomery was considered a possibility for any and all of the vacant coaching jobs this summer, as well, including the post with the New York Rangers.
In fact, the Rangers’ interest in Montgomery may have sped up the Stars’ process of bringing him aboard. According to the New York Post’s Larry Brooks, the Blueshirts, without a coach following the firing of Alain Vigneault, were “impressed” with Montgomery during his interview. It was believed he was a potential frontrunner for that gig, but he’s going to be off the table now with the Stars swooping in to hire him.
In Dallas, Montgomery will be tasked with taking a roster that was considered one of the best in the Western Conference following a busy summer heading into 2017-18 and getting them back to the post-season. The Stars have failed to reach the post-season in each of the past two seasons, and he’ll most likely be asked to find the right balance between the safe, defensive style game Dallas played this past season under Hitchcock and the up-tempo, run-and-gun style the Stars utilized under predecessor Lindy Ruff. Montgomery will also need to draw on his experience in Denver to aid in the continued development of up-and-comers such as Radek Faksa, Brett Ritchie, Jason Dickinson, as well as prospect Miro Heiskanen, who could make his NHL debut, at least as a part-timer, as early as next season.
Despite being an NHL coaching neophyte, Montgomery isn’t unfamiliar with the pro scene. Over a professional playing career that spanned from 1993 to 2005, Montgomery saw 122 games of NHL action, as well as another 451 in the AHL. He also played another 200 games spread across the IHL, UHL and German and Russian Leagues. His big league career does give him a connection to the Stars, as well, as he spent two full seasons in the organization, getting into nine games with Dallas between the 2001-02 and 2002-03 seasons. Fittingly, the Stars coach during the first of those seasons was Hitchcock.
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