MONTREAL – There’s nothing Al Montoya would like more than to build off a successful season in South Florida and keep things rolling with the Canadiens in 2016-17.
After partnering with Roberto Luongo to help lead the Panthers to their second-ever division title and first playoff appearance since 2011-12 last year, the 31-year-old goaltender certainly wasn’t lacking in motivation heading into the offseason. It was the first time that Montoya had experienced postseason play in the NHL first-hand, which made this summer just a little bit sweeter, even if Gerard Gallant’s squad failed to advance beyond Round 1.
“It was exciting to be a part of it. You go into every year with the intention of making the playoffs and getting your team to the top of the division. That’s the goal that we had last year. Just having a taste of that makes you want more. That’s where I’m at. I’m hungry for more. I can’t wait for it to start,” said Montoya, who signed a one-year deal with the Canadiens on July 1 after spending the last two seasons in the Sunshine State. “It’s more incentive. I built a good foundation last year, and I’m excited to keep building on it to be the player that I can be.”
With a healthy Carey Price set to make his return to active duty, Montoya is well-aware that he’ll likely be battling with sophomore Mike Condon for the back-up role at training camp in September. The Chicago native is certainly up to the challenge, and he has plenty of NHL experience to draw upon with 136 appearances under his belt since debuting with Phoenix in 2008-09.
“I’m going to show what I can do in training camp and be the back-up to Carey Price. I’m not going to let my mind take me anywhere else. That’s what I’m ready for,” said Montoya, a former sixth-overall selection of the New York Rangers in 2004, who has also suited up for the New York Islanders and Winnipeg Jets over the course of his career. “For me, it’s about never being complacent. You’re always being pushed, one way or another. I’m going into this season with the mentality that it’s my job and I’m going to help the team make the playoffs.”
When the Canadiens came calling for his services a week-and-a-half ago, Montoya thought landing in the hockey hotbed would be a perfect fit. Having played in Manitoba for two seasons ahead of his most recent stop in Miami, the University of Michigan product has a deep appreciation for the fan base north of the border.
“The fans [in Montreal] are fantastic. They’re intelligent. They understand the game. It makes playing there much more fun. Then, there’s the history that comes with that city and the team. I just can’t get enough,” said Montoya, who is eager for the opportunity to sport the CH in the friendly confines of the Bell Centre next season. “The tradition that the franchise carries with it, the people, playing in that stadium, it’s all very special. It’s going to be great to be back in a hockey community again. I’m excited to be a part of it.”
Aside from newly acquired defenseman Zach Redmond, whom he played with in Winnipeg, Montoya isn’t familiar with any of Michel Therrien’s troops. He is, however, acquainted with assistant coach Jean-Jacques Daigneault, who was behind the bench for the AHL’s Hartford Wolf Pack when Montoya was plying his trade in Connecticut in the mid-to-late 2000s.
Daigneault has fond memories of working with the now seven-year NHL veteran who, back then, immediately caught his eye with his high compete level.
“Al is a hard worker. He’s a very athletic goaltender who perseveres and never gives up on any puck. I remember him being a very good teammate, and players really liked him around the dressing room. I had a good time coaching him at a very young age,” said Daigneault, who affectionately refers to Montoya as “Monty.” “He’s a goalie that never gave up. It’s tough to establish yourself early in your career, especially when you’re a goalie and also a high pick. He was able to start making his niche with Winnipeg and did a great job in Florida last year. Perseverance was the main factor for him.”
Back home in the Windy City for the summer, Montoya is working out with the likes of Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Chris Kunitz and Brian Campbell, among others, to get himself prepared for what he hopes will be another solid year between the pipes.
“I’m just trying to keep moving forward in my career. I’m excited with how my season went last year and I’m looking forward to continuing to grow as a player with the Montreal Canadiens,” concluded Montoya, who put up the second-highest single-season win total of his NHL career in 2015-16 with 12 victories in 25 appearances, including 22 starts. “It’s a long season, and I’d like to help this team win and get back on the right track.”
Matt Cudzinowski is a writer for canadiens.com.
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