DETROIT – The news was more numbing than the bitterly arctic wind that struck Stephen Weiss in the face as he stepped out of his car at practice Sunday morning.
As the Red Wings forward walked into the rink at University Liggett in suburban Detroit, a text message alerted Weiss that his friend and former Florida teammate, Steve Montador, was found dead in his Ontario home early Sunday.
Montador, a defenseman, who played 10 NHL seasons and battled a series of concussion-related issues in recent years, was just 35 years old.
“It was very shocking. I had a text message from another one of my buddies when we were just walking out to go to practice. It really hasn’t sunk in yet,” Weiss said. “Monty was one of the most kind, generous guys you’d ever meet in the game, great teammate, really willing to do a lot of things in the community wherever he was with whatever team. He was one of my good buddies in the game for sure. I was close to Monty. I’m gonna miss him.”
According to a report in the Mississauga News, police do not suspect foul play, and a cause of death will not be known before an autopsy is performed.
Montador played for six NHL teams during his 10-season career, including Anaheim, Boston, Buffalo and Chicago. He produced 33 goals, 131 points and a plus-31 rating in 571 games.
Before he was traded to Florida during the 2005-06 season, Montador was a member of the Calgary Flames' 2003-04 team that reached the Stanley Cup finals, losing to the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Montador and Weiss were teammates for parts of three seasons, from 2005-08.
“Usually we touch base a few times a summer,” Weiss said. “I haven’t talked to him in a while, maybe when I got married, about a year or so ago. I know he’s been overseas playing so it hasn’t been as easy to keep in touch, but he was one of those guys you didn’t even need to. You just pick up right where you left off.”
Traumatic brain injuries have been a growing hot topic recently in sports. The National Institutes of Health concluded that high-profile football player Junior Seau and former NHL enforcer Derek Boogaard, who committed suicide, suffered from degenerative brain disease.
A concussion forced Montador to miss 22 games during his final season with the Blackhawks in 2011-12. He stayed in the organization and played just 14 games the following season with the Blackhawks’ AHL affiliate in Rockford.
He went to Russian and played 11 games in the Kontinental Hockey League for Medvescak Zagreb.
“I knew that he had gotten dinged a couple times and he was having trouble with that,” Weiss said. “But that’s as far as I know. I couldn’t tell you if he was struggling on a day-to-day basis with anything post-concussion symptoms. I hadn’t talked to him in probably a year. I don’t know what to say. I really don’t.”
Hockey is a game built around high-speed and full contact between heavy, powerful players. So, while the league has done what it can to ban some high-risk hits, head injuries remain an occasional hazard of the job, Weiss said.
“I think any sport there’s things that can happen,” he said. “When you’re playing hockey it’s a fast game and you’re playing against big, fast people. It’s a contact sport. So there’s possibilities you’re going to take a few concussions. It’s part of the deal. We love to play the game and make a good living at it (but) I don’t know if that played any part in it (Montador’s death) at all.”