July 26, 2004
Bucking the trend
Montoya opts for
another year in A2
By Sharad Mattu
Daily Sports Editor
Goaltender Al Montoya and nation-
al championship hopes will be in Ann
Arbor for at least another season.
Montoya, Michigan's team MVP
this past season, called head coach
Red Berenson Friday night to tell
him that he will return to the
Wolverines for his junior year. The
New York Rangers drafted Montoya
sixth overall and wanted him to play
next year for their minor league
team in Hartford.
"He seemed relieved and happy
about his decision," Berenson said.
"I think we're all relieved, too. It
would have been difficult to replace
a player like Al."
With Montoya back in the fold,
Michigan expects to contend for a
national title. In his first two sea-
sons Montoya has compiled a 56-
22-5 record, 2.28 goals-against
average and .914 save percentage.
The Wolverines lost just one regular
from last year's team and will hegin
the season with 11 seniors.
"Al is a key player on this team,"
Berenson said. "We know we'll have a
big senior class to lead the team, but
his return gives our team more of a
completeness to it."
Had Montoya chosen to leave, the
Wolverines would have had to rely on
one of their unproven backups, Noah
Ruden and Mike Mayhew, or bring in
a new goalie.
Berenson also believes that Montoya
will benefit from the high expectations
and pressure put on him and the team.
"I think it was a good decision for
him," Berenson said. "He can now
come back here and have a breakout
year. He still has a lot to prove himself
at the college hockey level.
"It was a good decision to come
back to a place where he knows the
challenges that lie ahead and has good
support around him."
Before and after the June 26 draft,
Montoya admitted that he would talk
to the team that drafted him and do
what was best for him in his quest to
reach the NHL.
"Al is concerned about his develop-
ment," Berenson said. "That's the rea-
son he went through this entire process.
"He'll have a chance to play pro
hockey in the future. But to leave this
team and school at this time for pro
hockey may have been too much."
Michigan has seen seven players
leave with eligibility remaining 'n the
last five years. Sometimes the early
defections were expected, but other
times Michigan coaches were caught
completely off-guard. Hut Montoya
kept in touch with Michigan coaches
throughout the process. He also spoke
with former Michigan goaltenders
Steve Shields and Marty Turco. Both
were four-year starters and went on to
play in the NHL.
Now that Montoya knows he will be
in Ann Arbor next year, he can relax for
the next month before the fall term.
"The timing of his decision is
good for him," Berenson said. "He
can now focus the rest of the sum-
mer on what he's going to do at
Michigan next year rather than
where he's going to play next year."
. a '
Michigan goalie Al Montoya passed on an offer to jump into the New York Rangers' system to return to Michigan this season.
Montoya's decision benefits all sides
ON ICE HoCKY
If Al Montoya had taken any
longer to decide whether or not to
return to Michigan, the Maize 'N-
Blue Deli would have named a
sandwich after him.
While it's not quite the same as
New York City's Carnegie Deli, the
place the "Al Cubano" calls home,
it's the best Ann Arbor can do.
Fortunately for Michigan, Mon-
toya didn't get too caught up in the
hype that surrounded him after get-
ting picked sixth overall by the
New York Rangers.
Not that it's been easy. Aside from
the debut of his sandwich, Montoya
has been to a Yankees-Mets game,
discussed his Cuban heritage and the
fact that his great-uncle fished along-
side Ernest Hemmingway with the
media about a hundred times and
been dubbed "the next athlete heart-
throb in New York" by the New York
Post's Page Six.
Yet, Montoya has decided to push
it all aside for at least a year in
exchange for mornings in Angell
Hall, afternoons in Yost Ice Arena
and nights at Rick's.
While his return is obviously
great for Michigan and its national
title hopes, it's a good move for
Montoya as well, even if nearly all
the NHL teams he spoke to before
the draft told him he's wasting his
time at Michigan.
That's because head coach Red
Berenson is correct when he says
Montoya has unfinished business in
college hockey. The notion that he
is too good for college hockey is
ridiculous, which is what NHL
teams seemed to be saying.
Montoya was drafted high
because of his potential, what he
will be more than what he is. He is
definitely on his way to becoming
an elite NHL goalie, but he still has
a long way to go. While he was
very good his sophomore year, was
he any better than a pair of fresh-
men on rival CCHA teams, Michi-
gan State's Dominic Vicari and
Notre Dame's David Brown? The
stats say that these two might even
have a slight edge.
When Montoya is at his best,
Michigan is nearly unbeatable. But
Montoya hasn't always been con-
sistent. At times, particularly on
the road, he has had bad stretches
and been unable to quickly right
Montoya will also benefit from
another year of high expectations.
As a goaltender, he has grown
accustomed to pressure, but it will
be different this year. The Wolver-
ines' goal this year is a national
championship, and anything less
See MONTOYA, P'age i5