The Boston Bruins could have taken the safe route.
The National Hockey League team could have hired former Providence Bruins coach and Providence College player Jay Leach to replace fired head coach Bruce Cassidy.
Leach, nephew of former UMaine assistant coach Jay Leach and ex-Black Bear player Jon Leach, is currently an assistant coach with the Seattle Kraken, who just concluded their first NHL season.
Or they could have picked former Boston University player and head coach David Quinn, who spent three seasons as the head coach of the New York Rangers before being fired a year ago.
Both were solid choices.
But they decided to go with UMaine Sports Hall of Famer Jim Montgomery, who captained the 1992-93 UMaine team to a 42-1-2 season and its first NCAA Division I championship and has since gone on to create an impressive coaching career.
If there is one thing that stands out about the 53-year-old Montgomery, it’s that he is a winner.
Wherever he has gone, he has won.
He is a natural-born leader.
The Bruins made the right choice in choosing Montgomery, who spent the last two seasons as an assistant coach with the St. Louis Blues.
For those who watched the documentary of UMaine’s national championship run in 1992-93 entitled “Out of the Woods,” you will remember Montgomery’s speech between the second and third periods of their national championship game against Lake Superior State.
Even though they were trailing 4-2 against a very good defensive team that had held teams to two goals or less 20 times, he told his teammates in emphatic terms that they were going to come back and win the game. There was no doubt in his mind.
Montgomery then proceeded to register a third-period hat trick and UMaine triumphed 5-4.
“Wherever he was going to go, he is going to make that team better. He’s that good of a coach,” said former UMaine and NHL goalie Ben Bishop, who played for Montgomery during his season and a half as the head coach of the Dallas Stars.
Bishop, who retired in December, said Montgomery landing in Boston is fantastic.
“He was an unbelievable coach for us in Dallas. He reads the game so well during a game. He knows how to make adjustments and what works,” said Bishop, a three-time finalist for the Vezina Trophy awarded to the league’s best goaltender.
“He wants to win and do the right thing and guys respect his competitiveness and his knowledge of the game. His hockey IQ is up there among the best I have ever seen.”
Bishop said players listen to Montgomery because “whatever he says is usually spot-on. They respect his opinion.”
According to a story in The Athletic, Montgomery flew to Finland before his first season as the head coach in Dallas to get to know his Finnish players.
In his first season in Dallas, he led the Stars to their first playoff berth in three years and they won a playoff series in six games over Nashville before taking eventual Stanley Cup champion St. Louis to a seventh game where they lost 2-1 in double overtime despite Bishop’s 52 saves.
He was 17-11-3 in year two when he was fired for unprofessional conduct fostered by his alcoholism. Montgomery said the Stars made the right decision in firing him and he entered a rehabilitation center to overcome his addiction and has been sober since.
“Obviously what happened was unfortunate but he found the path to get [healthy] and he is going to do great things for that organization,” Bishop predicted.
In his first season as a head coach/general manager with the Dubuque Fighting Saints of the United States Hockey League, Montgomery guided them to the Clark Cup title that goes to the playoff champion. It was Dubuque’s first season in the league.
They won another two years later.
His regular season record over three seasons was 118-45-21 and they went 20-7 in the playoffs.
Then it was on to the University of Denver for five seasons.
The Pioneers made the NCAA Tournament all five years he was behind the bench and, in 2016, they made their first Frozen Four appearance since 2004-05.
The following year, 2016-17, they won the national title and Montgomery was named the nation’s best coach.
His five-year-record was 125-57-26 and they finished in the top three in the highly regarded National Collegiate Hockey Conference the last three years.
The charismatic and engaging Montgomery, who also has a quick wit, will find himself in a fish bowl in Boston like all the coaches of the pro teams.
Boston is a passionate sports city and everything is scrutinized by the fans and the media.
But Bishop said Montgomery is a perfect fit for Boston.
“He tells you how it is. He doesn’t beat around the bush. There are no cliche lines. He tells you the truth and the fans will love that, too. He is one of those guys who is a straight shooter,” said Bishop.
Montgomery, a Montreal native and UMaine’s all-time leading career scorer with 301 points, will be anxious to prove himself.
He knows he is fortunate to have a second chance and that he nearly lost everything due to his alcoholism.
Wife Emily and his four children stood by his side and supported him in his battle to overcome his addiction and the Blues gave him the chance to return to something he is so well suited for.
But there are certainly going to be challenges.
The Bruins will be without their leading regular season and playoff scorer in Brad Marchand (surgery on both hips) and their top defenseman in Charlie McAvoy (shoulder surgery) until at least December, and another one of their prominent defenseman in Matt Grzelcyk (shoulder surgery) could also be out until December.
But Montgomery has never backed down from a challenge.
He will tackle it head on, just like he did in that national championship game.
He will have to get more out of the players he has.
And he will.