Brandon Montour's family and friends won't have to travel far to see him play tonight in Buffalo, but for the 22-year-old Ducks defenseman, the road there has been a lot more tumultuous.
Montour's parents, grandparents, two nieces and sister-in-law are among those making the drive from the towns of Ohsweken and Brantford in Ontario, Canada. The trip will take them around an hour and 40 minutes as they cruise past Niagara Falls before getting to KeyBank Center in Buffalo, home of the Sabres team that the Ducks will battle tonight.
But for Montour to make it there, it was a bit more of a whirlwind that started last Friday night, mere minutes after he scored the game-winner in overtime for the San Diego Gulls in a different Ontario - in California. The breakaway goal clinched a 4-3 win over the Ontario Reign, and soon afterward Montour learned he had been called up by the Ducks for the second time this season to fill in for an injured Sami Vatanen.
"Literally when I stepped off the ice, I was walking down to the dressing room and [Gulls General Manager] Bob Ferguson was right there," Montour recalls. "He said I had a flight in about two and a half hours. LAX is about an hour away from Ontario, so I had to get moving."
Montour hopped on a flight around midnight, connected in Detroit around six in the morning and finally landed around noon in Tampa Bay, where the Ducks were to face the Lightning that night.
"It was a pretty long travel day," understated Montour, who only had with him his hockey equipment and the track pants and t-shirt he had worn on the bus to Ontario. He had to find a nearby store for essentials like a toothbrush and phone charger.
Once he headed out for that night's game after a short nap, he took some grief for his attire. Most games the Gulls wear suits on the road, but coach Dallas Eakins lets the players dress casually for the short bus ride to Ontario.
"Guys were laughing, giving me little jokes," he says, "but they understood where I was coming from."
The only outfit that really mattered that night was the white and orange Ducks road uniform Montour donned when he got to Amalie Arena in Tampa for just his sixth NHL game (he was called up for the first time for about a week and a half around the New Year).
And it wasn't long after the drop of the puck that Montour scored his first NHL goal, hammering a slap shot off a Jakob Silfverberg feed past Lightning star goalie Ben Bishop. "That was a pretty big relief, especially to get it in the first period. [Ryan] Kesler and Silfverberg made a great play on the forecheck, and Silfvy found me streaking in off the bench. It was a great play by them, and luckily enough I found the back of the net."
The Ducks lost to Tampa in a shootout and had two days without a game for Montour to catch his breath. Then last Monday he played for the first time in the iconic Madison Square Garden against the Rangers. "That was pretty incredible," he says. "Obviously watching it on TV, that's one of the biggest arenas in all of hockey. During pregame, you don't really notice it being as big as you think it is, but when you're in the game, it's unbelievable and it's definitely a fun place to play."
Montour's travel odyssey to the East Coast was just the continuation of a head-spinning voyage over the previous week. To play in his second AHL All-Star Game on January 30, he left for Allentown, Pennsylvania at 4 a.m. from Tucson, where the Gulls had played the night before. A delayed flight caused him to miss a connection that forced him to forego part of the weekend festivities.
"San Diego to Tucson, Tucson to Pennsylvania, back to San Diego, Ontario to Tampa and back to Buffalo," Montour says with a laugh. "It's been long."
But it was worth it since his family got to see him play in the AHL All-Star Game, and he will be reunited with them after this one tonight. He's soaking as much of it in as possible knowing that he could be shuttled back to San Diego at a moment's notice.
"Obviously I know the situation on where they're at with depth and all that, and Sami is day to day," Montour says. "But this is a good taste of it, and I'm taking it day by day. Every opportunity I get I'm going to work hard and gain their trust.
"It's still new to me, and I'm treating every game like it's my first. It's been a blast so far."