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UMD's Montgomery plays familiar tune

By Roman Augostoviz, Star Tribune, 04/05/11, 9:38AM CDT

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Bulldogs defenseman, a former Centennial star, has shot at another championship


Mike Montgomery

Mike Montgomery was feeling a bit awkward, sitting at a news conference before the NCAA East Regional in Bridgeport, Conn.

Next to the Minnesota-Duluth senior defenseman were teammates Jack Connolly and Mike Connolly, both high-scoring forwards.

"It was kind of funny; they were getting hockey questions," Montgomery said, "and I was getting questions about my guitar and music."

Aha, somebody had checked deeply into his bio.

UMD, of course, won the East Regional, beating Union 2-0 and top-seeded Yale 5-3 to secure a spot in the Frozen Four this week. The Bulldogs will play Notre Dame at 4 p.m. on Thursday, April 7, at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul in the first national semifinal.

Before that game, the media will talk puck again with the Connollys, who are not related but click together as if they are reunited twins. Jack, a center, has 58 points and 41 assists, both team highs. Linemate Mike, a left winger, has 53 points and a team-high 27 goals.

Montgomery's statistics? Zero goals and 10 assists.

So Mike Montgomery, whose music do you like to play?

"Lately, it's Black Keys, a bluesy rock band," Montgomery said.

His hockey story is worth telling, too.

Montgomery played high school hockey for Centennial in Circle Pines, and his highlight was scoring the only goal in Cougars' 1-0 victory over Moorhead in the 2004 Class 2A state championship game. Next he joined the Southern Minnesota Express, a North American Hockey League team in Owatonna.

After 145 games there over two seasons, Montgomery seemed headed to becoming a normal, guitar-playing college student. He applied and was admitted to UMD.

Then, two weeks after the end of the Express season, Montgomery got a walk-on offer from UMD. Express coach Pat Cullen had recommended him.

"I was ecstatic," Montgomery said. "My teammates had all signed or had commitments. It has worked out perfectly."

Said Centennial coach Erik Aus: "Mike had an NHL body, and he could always skate like the wind. And he was one of the nicest kids you could meet, but the knock on him was he wasn't tough enough. But if you watch him now, he's got a lot meaner. He throws his body around."

Montgomery is the Bulldogs' captain this season. He will graduate with a finance degree this spring.

"[Mike] is an even-keel guy who, when he talks, people listen," UMD coach Scott Sandelin said. "He is a big body who can get the puck up the rink -- that must be some of the forward in him."

Montgomery came to Duluth for the 2007-08 season as a spare forward. He played in nine games, a couple of shifts here and there.

"It wasn't a lot of ice time," he said. "At the same time, I practiced every day with the team."

UMD had a lot of injuries to blueliners that season, so the 6-3, 215-pound Montgomery was asked to play defense in practices. As a sophomore, eager for more playing time, Montgomery asked to switch positions permanently.

Sandelin paired Montgomery with then-senior Josh Meyers.

"I was probably a liability, and he was the captain and our best defenseman," Montgomery said. "I felt privileged. He definitely helped me out. Probably the biggest thing was [closing] defensive gaps as opponents were taking rushes."

After his sophomore season, Montgomery was named the team's most improved player. As a junior, he scored his third and fourth goals of his career and had 17 points.

Now he is the team leader.

"Pointswise this has not been my most productive season," Montgomery said, "but my role has been to be a defensive guy. We've got good forwards. If I get them the puck, we are off to a good start."

Montgomery stays back, plays smart, controlled. He has committed only three penalties.

"I am not out to head-hunt or kill people," he said.

The first Bulldogs team for which Montgomery played finished eighth in the WCHA. The past two Bulldogs teams have tied for fourth and finished alone in fourth -- two points out of second place.

"I'm proud of what we have accomplished," Montgomery said, "but the job isn't done."

Said Aus: "I told Mike, 'You got as chance to win the national
championship in the same arena you won a [high school] state championship.' That would be a real nice story."

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Moorhead's Jack Stetz (21) throws his arms up as he and his teammates celebrated the win. ] ANTHONY SOUFFLE • anthony.souffle@startribune.com