Jim Montgomery completed his first season as an NHL coach in 2018-19 with a 43-32-7 record. He took the Stars to Game 7 of the second round of the playoffs and learned a great deal in the process.
He sat down with DallasStars.com's Mike Heika to answer a few questions about his experiences this week:
Mike Heika: How is this summer different than last summer when you were just getting familiar with the Stars and the new job?
Jim Montgomery: It's 100 percent different. Life is comfortable for my wife, for my kids, for myself. Now, we're going through meetings and how we're going to get better. It's a more narrow focus.
Heika: When you coached in college at the University of Denver (Montgomery went 125-57-26 with the Pioneers and won the 2017 NCAA championship), you had to do it all. How is it different as an NHL coach and being just one gear in a big machine?
Montgomery: It's a different environment to be a part of. It's something I really like. I love to coach, and I like that to be my focus. Finding the players in college was a necessary evil, and now it's not, so I really can focus on what I love to do.
Heika: You have a lot of ideas and a strong personality. How do you find ways to get your opinions across in a pro structure when it comes to personnel decisions?
Montgomery: I really enjoy watching the process and seeing how they do it at this level, so that's been a good thing for me. You learn where you can add value and where you don't even need to try to add value. That was probably the biggest learning curve I had, and Jim Nill helped me with that.
Video: Inside look at Game 7, end of Stars' 2018-19 season
Heika: The team started last season with a certain game plan, and that changed drastically when you lost players like Stephen Johns, Marc Methot and Martin Hanzal to injury. By the end of the year, you were a very different team, so what was that process like?
Montgomery: That's very similar to what I've done before. You always come in with ideas on how your team is going to be or how certain individual are going to be, and it always changes. So then you reconfigure pieces and figure out how to motivate certain players, and it's a process. Tyler (Seguin) and I went through that. But that's the fun part for me -- that's the coaching.
Heika: In talking to Tyler Seguin, it seems like you and he developed a strong relationship. Did you enjoy the process of coaching high-end professional athletes and finding a way to connect?
Montgomery: I think it happened with a lot of players. I liked the fact that our relationships evolved and that they were in a much better place at the end of the season than they were at the beginning. To me, that's the biggest confidence grower that I had throughout the year. I learned that me being myself can work at this level like it has at other levels. You don't know that until you go through it.
I could see the tide start to turn in January. At the beginning of the year, I would say something and you could tell that the players were like, 'Where is this going to go?' And that's part of the process, you've got to earn their trust. Then, at the end of the year, they would turn to me and say, 'What faceoff play do you want to run?' And that's when I knew we were growing as a group.
Heika: Did you have to adapt or change your style?
Montgomery: I really think it comes down to I believe in treating people honestly and I believe we are very fortunate to be able to work in this game, and that we can laugh together and work hard together and push each other and pull each other all for the benefit of the group. That means there are going to tough conversations, and that's OK. Anything worth fighting for, there's going to be adversity. That's where I think as a group, that was the biggest positive. By the end of the year, we were pulling through things together.
Heika: When you look back at the two playoff series, were there things you learned? Do you go back and assess what went right or what went wrong?
Montgomery: Definitely, there are things that I learned. I look back at decisions I made, and that's the playoffs and the regular season, and I can say these were positive, and these are things I would do differently. To learn from them and have that experience going into next year, I'm in a much more comfortable area knowing we can specifically target areas where we can get better on the ice and off the ice. I have a clearer vision of where we want to go now.
Video: Montgomery thanks Stars' leadership group for work
Heika: How do you feel right now? Has a successful year given you confidence?
Montgomery: Having had success coming through the adversity we faced, that's been a positive thing. Changing work habits, changing what the idea of being a good teammate is inside the locker room, I think that had to change before we could see the value on the ice. And that, to me, is a big part of the change we have made. It excites me that we have that base now and that can help us grow on the ice. We have that glue of the foundation now, and that's been really good.
Heika: Does that make things easier going forward?
Montgomery: It's not being comfortable, but there is a comfort there. They know I'm a guy who can laugh with them, but I also can be a drill sergeant, too. Nothing is going to surprise them now.
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, and listen to his podcast.
Read more: Jim Montgomery, Dallas Stars