The University of Denver hockey program is undergoing a facelift. With the Pioneers entering the National Collegiate Hockey Conference this October, there will be a new commander in chief on the DU bench.
Gone is 19-year veteran coach George Gwozdecky and in comes Jim Montgomery. The former Dubuque Fighting Saints (USHL) head coach and general manager plans on bringing the Mile High City a new style of DU hockey.
“The ingredients and core values of how our team will play is always going to be the same,” Montgomery said. “I want our team to be relentless. That is always going to be the staple of our team. Anything that we change in our style of play, X’s and O’s, is always going to take into effect does this keep us relentless?”
Montgomery, who was introduced as Denver’s eighth head coach in program history on April 15, has had success at the junior and collegiate hockey levels. This year Montgomery led the Fighting Saints to the Clark Cup Finals. In three seasons with Dubuque, Montgomery posted a 118-45-21 record while winning the Clark Cup in 2010-11.
The newly minted Denver coach believes his experiences at Dubuque will help him with his return to the collegiate game – Montgomery spent four years as an assistant coach at RPI (2006-10) and one at Notre Dame (2005-06).
“In three years of coaching with the playoffs and regular season I will have coached the equivalent of five college hockey seasons,” Montgomery said. “The advantage I have is I got all of that game experience. The adjustment is going to be going back to being prepared for 34-36 games because you get to experiment a lot more in a 60-game junior hockey season.”
But it all comes back to being relentless says Montgomery. He understands the pressure that comes with taking over for a legend like Gwozdecky. Montgomery is confident DU fans will come to love his team’s new style of play.
“The Denver fans are going to like the style of play because it’s aggressive,” Montgomery said. “I think over time if you want the fans to be happy you have to win. That’s the challenge put in front of me is to keep up the great tradition that George (Gwozdecky) brought back to Denver here in the last 20 years.”
Senior goalie Sam Brittain said many of the returning Pioneer players enjoyed meeting Montgomery during the coach’s introductory press conference. Brittain and others had a chance to talk to their new coach while he was in town.
“Obviously it was a whirlwind the past month,” Brittain said. “We talked about how he wants us to play. It’s going to be a fast tempo with a lot of pressure and we’re going to make sure we rely on hard work over more of a traditional skill style of play.
“For me and the guys we’re excited. It’s a new chance to prove ourselves to a new coach and a fresh start for the season.”
It will be a new start for all of DU when the Pioneers kick off their inaugural season in the National Collegiate Hockey Conference on Nov. 1 against the University of Nebraska Omaha in the Pioneers first NCHC game. Montgomery believes more than anything that testing his coaching wits against some of the best coaches the NCHC has to offer will be one of the greatest challenges.
One he is willing, and excited, to take on.
“Our conference is going to be the biggest challenge,” Montgomery said. “Every night is going to be one amazing team after another. It just never ends. Extremely talented coaches with rosters that have a lot of experience at winning. I relish that challenge because you want to be playing against the best.”
Brittain said you could sense the confidence that Montgomery brings to Denver.
“He knows what he wants to do and knows where he wants to take this program,” Brittain said. “Basically his confidence was a big thing most of the guys really like and what he is going to bring to the table.”
Montgomery knows what it feels like to win the NCAA National Title after captaining the Maine Bears to the school’s first championship in 1992-93. He finished his collegiate playing career with 301 points (103g, 198a) and went on to play in the National Hockey League for parts of six seasons for five different teams.
But before the Pioneers can think of winning a national title they will have to make it through their first season in the NCHC.
“It’s the best of the best,” Montgomery said. “You’re going to be able to see where you’re at as a coach and I relish that challenge to see how they (NCHC coaches) prepare their teams and be able to see what we can do as a team to compete against them.”