University of Maine Sports Hall of Famer Jim Montgomery was cherishing his first win as the head coach of the Boston Bruins on Thursday.
The Bruins beat the Washington Capitals 5-2 at the Capital One Arena in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday night.
“It feels great,” said the 53-year-old Montgomery, a former All-American and Hobey Baker Award finalist who captained UMaine’s first NCAA championship team in 1992-93 and is the school’s all-time leading scorer with 301 career points.
“This team plays so hard for each other and they are so committed to the game,” he added.
The win marks the first for Montgomery as head coach since his tenure with the NHL’s Dallas Stars. He led them to their first playoff berth in three years in 2018-19. It was his first year behind the Stars bench.
He was fired the following December due to misbehavior stemming from his alcoholism.
He compiled a record of 61-43-10 in Dallas.
Montgomery went to rehab and has been sober since. He was an assistant coach for the St. Louis Blues for two years before landing the Bruins job this past summer.
The Montreal native is coaching another former Black Bear in goalie Jeremy Swayman, the former All-American, Hobey Baker Award finalist and Mike Richter Award winner for the nation’s best goalie.
Swayman shared the goaltending with Linus Ullmark last season and Montgomery said he will likely split them during the regular season due to the grueling 82-game schedule and the fact he has confidence in both of them.
Ullmark picked up the win over the Capitals.
The 23-year-old Swayman was 24-14-3 with a 2.41 goals-against average and a .914 save percentage last season and is now 30-17-3, 2.23, .920 for his career.
The Bruins will play their home opener on Saturday night at 7 p.m. against the Phoenix Coyotes and Montgomery said “Black Bear Nation will get the start,” in reference to Swayman playing in goal.
Montgomery had high praise for Swayman, saying “he cares about the right things. His work ethic and professionalism is beyond reproach.”
Montgomery said one of the keys to their team is the “incredible leadership.”
“Patrice Bergeron is a special captain,” Montgomery said. “And they all care about each other. That’s why the Bruins have been so good for so long.”
The return of high-scoring David Krejci after he spent last season in his native Czech Republic has given the Bruins a big lift and Montgomery has him on a line with fellow Czechs David Pastrnak and Pavel Zacha. They teamed up for two goals and six assists in the Washington game, including the vital fourth goal when Zacha’s nice breakout pass from the defensive zone resulted in Krejci flipping home the rebound of a Pastrnak breakaway.
“That was really special. Zacha made the play off the ball and the other two transitioned to offense. They’re fun to coach,” Montgomery said.
Montgomery said training camp heading into the scene was “real smooth.”
“We accomplished what we needed from the team and the individual players without me overcoaching them,” said Montgomery, who also credited general manager Don Sweeney with how he manages the team.
“I don’t think he sleeps,” Montgomery said. “He is so sharp and on-point about everything. He has been a tremendous resource for me.”
Former UMaine defenseman Dan Renouf was also in training camp and was sent down to Providence of the American Hockey League. Montgomery said he had a solid training camp and he is confident Renouf would get the job done if he gets called up.
“He played really well. He has a great mind for the game, offensively and defensively. He manages the game well,” Montgomery said.
Montgomery is one of two former Black Bears who is a head coach in the NHL.
John Tortorella is making his Philadelphia Flyers debut on Thursday night against New Jersey after previous stops with Tampa Bay, the New York Rangers, the Vancouver Canucks and the Columbus Blue Jackets. The 64-year-old Tortorella has a record of 673-541-132 with 37 ties.
When he begins the season as a head coach, 11 of his 16 teams have made the playoffs and his 2003-04 Tampa Bay Lightning team won the Stanley Cup.
Besides Swayman, the other former Black Bears playing in the NHL are defenseman Ben Hutton (Las Vegas) and forwards Gustav Nyquist (Columbus), Devin Shore (Edmonton) and Ryan Lomberg (Florida).
The 29-year-old Hutton played in Vegas’ season-opening 4-3 win over Los Angeles. He has played in 438 NHL regular season games and has 19 goals and 85 assists, including three and 10 in 58 games last season.
The 33-year-old Nyquist has played in 653 NHL games, including the 4-1 loss to Carolina on Wednesday, and has 164 goals and 237 assists. He notched 18 goals and 35 assists in 82 games a year ago.
The 28-year-old Shore and the Oilers beat Vancouver 5-3 in their opener, Shore’s 376th career game. He has 49 goals and 77 assists with five and six in 49 games a season ago.
Lomberg, who is 27, has 100 NHL games under his belt and has amassed 11 goals and 12 assists, including nine goals and nine assists in 55 games in 2021-22. Florida opens against the Islanders on Thursday.