Things couldn't have played out any better for Al Montoya. Leading up to the 2004 NHL Entry Draft, he could only imagine how it would feel to be selected by the New York Rangers. On Saturday, that dream became a reality when the University of Michigan goaltender was selected by the Blueshirts with the fifth overall pick.
"This is truly a dream come true for me," said a glowing Montoya when meeting the media following his selection. "New York is a great city with tremendous fans and it has always been a dream of mine to play at Madison Square Garden. When you think of New York, you think USA. It's something I've always wanted to be a part of."
"You just sit up in the stands and never know when your name is going to be called. There are always rumors floating around that this team wants you or that team wants you, so you never really know. You just wait it out. It's a pretty intense feeling and I'm just glad that I was selected by New York. If I had to pick one team to go to, this would be the team."
In 2003-04, Montoya appeared in 40 games, posting a 26-12-2 record, along with a 2.23 goals against average and .917 save percentage. The 6-1, 190-pound Glenview, Illinois native was the recipient of numerous honors following his sophomore season, including: 2003-04 Jofa/AHCA All-America West Second Team selection (the first University of Michigan All-American since the 2001-02 season), 2003-04 All-CCHA Second Team, a finalist for 2003-04 CCHA Goaltender of the Year and 2003-04 CCHA All-Academic honorable mention.
While his sophomore season at Michigan was a success, Montoya truly made a name for himself at the 2004 IIHF Under-20 World Junior Championship in Finland, where he backstopped the United States to its first-ever gold medal finish in the history of the tournament. Starting all six games for Team USA, Montoya posted a 1.33 goals against average, a .944 save percentage and two shutouts, earning the Directorate Award as the top goaltender at the tournament.
"Winning the gold medal at the World Juniors was an unbelievable experience," Montoya reflected. "We had great leadership, we performed well and came home with the gold. It was awesome."
Spicing up Montoya's draft day experience was a pleasantly surprising phone call from one of his goaltending role models - Rangers great Mike Richter.
"He wished me the best of luck," said Montoya of his conversation. "He's such a great guy and offered to help me in any way he could in the future. That's what this organization is all about and why it's so special."
"I've always followed the Rangers and have admired Mike Richter," added Montoya. "He loved wearing the red, white and blue, as do I. Hopefully, that's something that I can also be a part of for a very long time."
Another interesting sidebar to Montoya's draft day story is his Cuban-American heritage. For Montoya, family has always been an important thing, whose mother, Irene Silva, fled Cuba at the age of nine with her parents in pursuit of a better life in the United States, settling first in Miami and then in suburban Chicago where Montoya was born. Montoya looks to become the first Cuban-American born player.
"My mom is the reason why I am here today," he said with her nearby as she spoke also to a large contingent of media. Her support and guidance through the years has allowed me to be in this position where I am. She was always an outgoing lady that always wanted us to do everything and have everything that she could give us. She didn't want us to miss out, so she took us to the ice rink across the street. I just never wanted to leave that rink."
Montoya's top-10 selection by the Rangers solidifies the belief of many NHL scouts and executives that he will be a top-flight goaltender for many years.
"This is the guy we wanted," said Rangers Assistant General Manager and Vice President of Player Personnel Don Maloney. "He has played in big games, as well as in big tournaments and comes from one of the top hockey programs in the country at Michigan. We spent a lot of time with him over the last few days and we really liked what we saw from this kid. He's a great player. He has a terrific personality. He possesses physical ability and he truly was looking forward to the opportunity to play in New York."
"Overall, this was a good draft for goaltenders and we feel that the only way to win is if we have solid goaltending," added Maloney. "We have Dan Blackburn, who is really working hard to come back from his shoulder injury and we are still very high on him. We also have Henrik Lundqvist
in the system, who is one of - if not the best - goaltender in Europe right now. And add Jason LaBarbera to the mix, who had an excellent season in Hartford - and now Montoya - and we feel that we have many great assets in goal, which we view as a tremendous positive."
Before wrapping up his lengthy media session, Montoya reflected on the happenings of the last hour of his life.
"This whole experience has been phenomenal," concluded Montoya of his draft experience. "I'm so glad my family was able to be here with me. I want to play in the NHL and I must work hard and prove it. This is my dream."
"The city of New York is waiting for something special. It's just an honor for me to throw on this jersey and I hope to help steer the Rangers in the right direction."RELATED LINKS:Mom's Love Guides Montoya >>