Michigan goalie Al Montoya has decided to return to school for his junior season. The No. 6 overall pick by the New York Rangers in June’s NHL Entry Draft labored over his options since then.
“It comes down to it, I’ve got some unfinished business at school I want to take care of,” Montoya told the Journal News. “For development purposes I’m on the right track at Michigan to get to Madison Square Garden some day.”
Montoya said he informed Michigan coach Red Berenson of his decision on Friday night. The Rangers are said to be pleased with the decision.
“I’m a firm believer that 19 is a tough age to turn pro, especially at that position,” Rangers assistant general manager Don Maloney said to the Journal News.
Montoya has been a big story since being drafted, as the New York media pounded on his biography as the potential first Cuban-American to play in the NHL. His mother, Dr. Irena Silva, immigrated to the U.S. as a child, and has expressed a preference for Montoya to return to school.
“He seemed relieved and happy about his decision,” said Berenson. “I think we’re all relieved, too. It would have been difficult to replace a player like Al.
“Al is a key player on this team. “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.”
The 6-foot-1 Montoya had 2.27 goals against average last season for the Wolverines, and helped bring the U.S. its first gold medal at the World Junior Championships. He would’ve been entering an organization with a 2001 first-round pick in Dan Blackburn, and the AHL’s MVP, Jason LaBarbera, already in the fold.
“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,” Berenson said.
The Rangers implied that it was them that made the decision, not Montoya.
“If we had wanted Al Montoya, we would have signed him,” Maloney told the Journal News. “It’s not quite as black and white as people might have thought.”
But Montoya said it was about trying to help Michigan win a national title.
“I want to look back at these days and feel I have no regrets,” said Montoya to the paper. “If I left early and rushed things, I think I might have looked back and regretted things.”
Michigan has seen seven players leave with eligibility remaining in the last five years. Sometimes the early defections were expected, but other times Michigan coaches were caught completely off-guard. But 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 summer on what he’s going to do at Michigan next year rather than where he’s going to play next year.”
This report contains contributions from Sharad Mattu and the Michigan Daily.