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Stars try to 'move forward' following Montgomery's dismissal

Nill says the head coach was fired following an investigation into a 'material act of unprofessionalism'

by Mike Heika @MikeHeika / Senior Staff Writer

DALLAS -- The Stars are hoping to make the best of a bad situation by pouring their energy into the on-ice product.

Head coach Jim Montgomery was fired Tuesday morning for committing a "material act of unprofessionalism," according to general manager Jim Nill.

Nill said he was informed of the act by an outsider Sunday and did his investigation. The investigation yielded information that left him no choice but to fire Montgomery, he said. Nill said the act was not criminal and had nothing to do with abuse of current or past players (an area where the NHL is cracking down).

"We went through all of the records, information we received. This all came to light on Sunday and once I received all the information, we sat down to digest everything. We talked to general counsel and made our decision," Nill said.

Asked if this had anything to do with the NHL's new program to help prevent player abuse, he said: "No, it doesn't. The Dallas Stars, first of all, approve of the NHL creating this four-point initiative. But this decision was made before that. There's no connection."

Video: Jim Nill addresses Stars' dismissal of Jim Montgomery

Nill hired Montgomery in the summer of 2018 and the former University of Denver coach went 60-43-10 in the NHL, leading the Stars to the second round of the playoffs last season.

"It is my hire, but it's important to do the right thing," Nill said of his decision to fire Montgomery. "We had to do the right thing in this situation."

Assistant coach Rick Bowness will become head coach and will move to coaching forwards during the game. John Stevens will move into Bowness' position of coaching defensemen, and Texas Stars coach Derek Laxdal will move up to help out with the forwards and coach the power play. Todd Nelson will remain in his role, coaching from the press box.

Bowness said none of the coaches or players knew what was happening until Tuesday morning. But he said that while losing Montgomery is difficult, the team will continue to function in almost the exact same way.

"Usually when a coach takes over a team, they're struggling or in the process of selling everything. But I'm in the fortunate position that Monty is an excellent coach and has got this team playing very, very well," Bowness said. "There's no question it's a shock to all of us, but the cold reality of it is we have a game to play tonight and we're men and we're professionals, and this is what we signed up for. As much of a distraction as it is, we're going to have to set it aside and get ourselves mentally and physically prepared to play tonight."

 

[MORE COVERAGE: 5 things you might not know about Stars interim coach Rick Bowness]

 

The Stars take on the New Jersey Devils at American Airlines Center at 7:30 p.m. Dallas is 17-11-1 (37 points). New Jersey Is 9-15-5 (23 points). The Stars were 16-4-1 in their last 21 games under Montgomery, which means there is the opportunity to still succeed under the new format.

"Say what you want about whatever's going on here, but Monty built a great foundation here and he's put us back in a great position," said forward Tyler Seguin. "We're fighting for the playoffs here, we're not getting four new coaches here. Everyone has been here, the players have been here, and we're looking forward to the opportunity tonight."

Bowness has been behind NHL benches as a coach for more than 2,300 games. However, he has been a head coach for just 463 games. He has a 123-289-51 record and last was head coach of the Coyotes in 2003-04 when he was fired after going 2-12-6. He joked about his return as a head coach and also as a coach of the forwards when he said: "I told the forwards that I haven't run a bench in 16 years, so let's try to be a little patient out there today, but we'll figure it out as we go along."

Bowness said he has interviewed for head coaching jobs in recent summers and said he embraces getting this opportunity at the age of 64.

"Even at my age, you want to take another shot at it, so it means an awful lot to me to have one more kick at it," he said. "There's a lot more years behind me than ahead of me, I get all of that, but we're just going to enjoy every day and we're going to make the most of it. I'm very fortunate to be given this opportunity, I'm very fortunate that ownership and management has the faith in me to take this over. It means a lot."


Bowness said the entire coaching staff was together in making game plans, so he doesn't anticipate a whole lot of changes.

"Jim and I agreed on a lot. We want to be a tough team to play against defensively, we don't want to give up a lot of scoring chances. That's why Monty and I got along so well, we saw the game the same way," Bowness said. "But every coach has his own personality and every team takes on a different coaching personality, so I'm a different guy than Monty. I'll present different and talk to the guys different, because we have different personalities. But philosophically, we don't have to make a whole lot of changes here."

Stars captain Jamie Benn said the team has a lot of leadership that will deal with the distractions and also with how to build going forward.

"Monty was a great coach, a great person and that's why it's tough. I had a great relationship with him. It's almost like when teammates get traded or you lose players within your organization. It's kind of the same feeling, where it doesn't feel that good," Benn said. "We're all professionals in here. We've been around the game for a while now and I have a great support cast with the veteran players that we have. We'll deal with it as a team, and as a group, and keep moving forward."

Benn said the team has dealt with a lot of adversity already, including a 1-7-1 start, and they have responded well as a group.

Video: Rick Bowness on being named interim coach of Stars

"It's just one thing after another," he said. "I think a big part about our group is we're resilient and we have a lot of character. When obstacles get thrown our way, we've managed to deal with it and figure out a way to get through it together, and that's what we'll do again in this situation."

Nill said he didn't want to get into details of what happened, and players said they were not told specifics.

"It's out of respect for everyone involved," Nill said. "As I mentioned per my statement, we decided it was unprofessional, a decision had to be made. … This all came to light on Sunday, and once I received all the information, we sat down to digest everything. We talked to general counsel and made our decision."

Now, the focus is on moving forward.

"I spoke to the team today, they're very surprised," Nill said. "But we're very fortunate. We have a very good team, we have great leadership and they're going to get through this. The coaching staff does a great job, and they're going to get over this. It's a bump in the road and they're going to digest this, and we'll move forward and go from there."

This story was not subject to the approval of the National Hockey League or Dallas Stars Hockey Club.

Mike Heika is a Senior Staff Writer for DallasStars.com and has covered the Stars since 1994. Follow him on Twitter @MikeHeika.

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