CHICAGO - The Denver Pioneers Head Coach, Jim Montgomery is wise. Years as both a player and coach have helped Montgomery lead his Pioneers to the Frozen Four in Chicago this year.
Two wins at the United Center, home of the Chicago Blackhawks, and Denver will be the national champions. The irony is Montgomery will have to get through a coach that mentored him before his team can move on in a chance to claim the title.
"I didn't have any coaching connections at the time," Montgomery said about transitioning from a player to a coach in 2005. "I wanted to learn from someone elite."
When his professional playing days were over, he was ready to start his career on the bench and Notre Dame's head coach, Jeff Jackson, was there to give him a shot.
"He said, 'why don't you come down here and we'll talk and I'll tell you how much you get to do,'" Montgomery said. "We sat their talking in his office for two hours, constant flow, and I said I'm going to learn a lot; this is exactly where I want to go."
Jackson is in his 12th year with the Fighting Irish and now has to coach at the Frozen Four against his former volunteer assistant, Jim Montgomery.
"He's a great young coach," said Jackson. "He's got a great future ahead of him. He's got all the right aspects to being a great coach. I'm proud of him; I'm happy for him."
Both coaches have been on this grand stage before; however, Montgomery was a player and Jackson a rookie head coach. In 1993 Jackson was the young head coach of a Lake Superior State team that lost to Maine in the National Championship.
"I was fortunate to score the last three goals," said Montgomery, "all in the third period."
Montgomery, the all-time leading scorer for the team, scored a natural hat-trick after trailing 4-2 in the third, all assisted by former NHL great Paul Kariya. The two both lead the Bears in points that season.
"I was just teasing the other guys talking about it wasn't Jim Montgomery, it was Paul Kariya, but Jimmy just happened to be at the other end of the passes," Jackson said.
Maybe it's a bit surprising that Jackson, after being treated so rudely by Montgomery in that title game, gave Jim his start in coaching; or maybe he knew he would get to see him suffer once he started working for him.
"Believe it or not, I was loading and unloading doors," Montgomery said.
The volunteer assistant at the time had to do hard, physical labor. That was Montgomery's hourly job before he reported to the rink to work for free the rest of the day.
"I remember I showed up one day and I was covered in blue paint, because they had to repaint part of their assembly line on the doors, and I had to be on my knees," Montgomery said. "I got it all over the place and I remember showing up to the office and he goes, 'you really want to be a coach, don't you?'"
There was no stopping him from getting to his spot on the bench just like when he was a player.
"He had enough motivation to make a few extra bucks to put in his pocket and come to the rink every day and do a great job for us...Jimmy certainly paid his dues in the early years to make himself a good coach," Jackson said.
From mentor to opponent, there's always going to be a mutual respect between the two.
"If you look at the playbook I've kept, a lot of it is plagiarized from Jeff Jackson," Montgomery said.
This is actually not the Frozen Four lesson Montgomery would prefer. "I don't think I'll get as much joy beating him as I do others," he said.
The two face-off tomorrow at the United Center in Chicago, Illinois in the Frozen Four at 7:30pm MT.
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