Al Montoya should be very comfortable in a Rangers sweater, as the goalie prospect has had success in red, white and blue on several occasions during his young career while representing the United States before inking a deal with New York last month.
"It's a wonderful feeling," Montoya said after the Rangers took him with the sixth overall pick in the 2004 NHL Entry Draft. "I always wanted to put on this jersey. I guess it really started when I loved to watch the USA Hockey team play and being a goalie I really loved to watch Mike Richter. When the Olympics came around, it was Mike Richter time. Then I started loving the Rangers. The city has great fans. It's always been a dream of mine to play in Madison Square garden. Hopefully, it will happen one day."
Montoya is a graduate of the United States National Team Development Program. As a member of Team USA at the 2004 World Junior Championships, he backstopped his team to a championship, giving the US its first-ever gold medal finish in the tournament. The Glenview, IL native started all six games in the memorable tourney, posting a 1.33 goals-against-average and a .944 save percentage and two shutouts. His GAA and save percentage rank second all-time among US-born goaltenders at the World Junior Championships. For his stellar efforts, he was awarded the Directorate Award as the tournament's top netminder. At the 2005 World Junior Championships, he posted a 3-4-0 record, along with a 3.36 goals against average and a .904 save percentage.
"Whenever you pull on the red, white and blue, it's a great feeling," Montoya said. "You're not representing just your team, but your whole nation. To win the gold medal was a feeling like no other. One of my dreams is to play goal for the United States in an Olympics. To do that, I have to take it step by step and hopefully I'll get to that goal one day.
"Winning the gold medal at the World Juniors was an unbelievable experience. We had great leadership, we performed well and came home with the gold. It was awesome."
What was also awesome for Montoya was the fact that he got to speak to Richter on the telephone on Draft Day right after the Rangers called him up to the podium in Raleigh, NC.
"He wished me the best of luck," Montoya told a crowd of reporters at the 2004 Draft. "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. "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."
Rangers' President and General Manager Glen Sather made that a possibility when he signed the 6-foot-1, 190-pound puck-stopper to deal on July 27, 2005.
"Al is one of the top goaltending prospects in hockey and we are extremely pleased to have signed him," Sather said. "We feel this will be a big step for Al in advancing his development. He has been working extremely hard this summer and we are looking forward to seeing him on the ice at training camp in September."
The 20-year old suited up for 40 games with the University of Michigan last season, posting a 30-7-3 record, along with a 2.52 goals against average and a .895 save percentage. The junior led the nation in minutes played with 2,358:51 and posted a career-best 11-game winning streak from February 11 through Mar. 25. Montoya also netted a career-best 14-game unbeaten streak from January 29 through March 25.
In six 2005 post-season contests, Montoya registered a 5-1 record, along with a 1.67 goals against average and a .912 save percentage, helping lead the club to the Midwest Regional Final. For his stellar play, he was named to the All-Midwest Regional Team. At the conclusion of the season, he was selected to the Academic All-Big Ten Conference Team.
While at Michigan, Montoya appeared in 123 career CCHA games with the Wolverines, registering a 86-29-8 record, along with a 2.36 goals against average. Montoya's skates will be tough to fill, as he left behind a legacy, ranking among the leaders in several categories in the university's all-time record books, including: fourth on the all-time wins list with 86; third all-time with 13 shutouts; tied for first with a .908 save percentage; third in goals against average with a 2.36 GAA; and fifth all-time in minutes played with 7,246:51. In postseason play, he appeared in 20 career contests, posting a 15-5 record, along with a 1.80 goals against average, a .928 save percentage and three shutouts.
"We like his size. He's a big goalie in the net, handles the puck extremely well and is very, very mobile," Rangers Asst. General Manager/VP of Player Personnel Don Maloney said after the '04 Draft. "He relishes big games and big spots. He won the World Junior Championship. There's nothing not to like."
Montoya feels the same way about New York.
"This is truly a dream come true for me," he said "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."