Brandon Montour, youth key UMass hockey team’s second-half turnaround



Last modified: Saturday, January 31, 2015

AMHERST — It would be a mistake to credit all of the UMass hockey team’s recent improvement to the midseason arrival of freshman defenseman Brandon Montour. No one player, other than maybe a goalie, could turn a whole team around. But it’s not a coincidence either that the Minutemen are a better hockey team with him than they were without the highly touted rookie.

Montour arrived for UMass’ 8-3 loss to Northeastern on Dec. 16, the first game he was eligible and the last game of the first half of the season. He was held without a point that night as he tried to get acclimated just a day after arriving in Amherst. After 12 days off for holiday break, Montour returned and has been arguably the team’s best player. He leads UMass with 10 points on two goals and eight assists over the last nine games. His 1.0 points per game would put him sixth in Hockey East if he had enough games to qualify. Despite playing less than half the total contests of most of his peers, Montour’s points and assists already have him just outside the league leaders among freshman or defensemen.

UMass is 4-4-1 in those nine games after going 4-12-0 before that.

“It’s been a great couple weeks here. We’ve been playing well. Hopefully there are more wins and more points we can steal here in the second half,” said Montour, an Ontario native with an accent to prove it. “The attitude and everything in the room is positive. We’re just excited to keep it going and see what we can do in the second half.”

While Montour has lived up to his reputation an as offensive player, he’s been a better defensive player than many expected.

“I think sometimes the difficult thing with a guy who is termed to be an offensive guy, there’s less credit given to the defensive side,” UMass coach John Micheletto said. “His skillset is predicated on his skating and a great stick. He has real good hand-eye coordination. I think that’s why he was such a good lacrosse player growing up as well. He has hockey sense and that’s a big part of his game as well. He can contribute both ways.”

Picked in the second round of last summer’s NHL draft by the Anaheim Ducks, Montour is the highest Minuteman ever selected, but despite his pedigree and reputation, he’s impressed his teammates with his play and his team-first approach.

“His skillset is pretty unbelievable. To be a freshman who comes in the middle of the season and to do what he’s done just shows how special a player he is,” senior captain Troy Power said. “Not only is he meshing on the ice, but off the ice, he’s a great kid that’s really comfortable to be around in the locker room. He’s made an instant impact on and off the ice. With his skillset and his background it would be very easy to come in and give off an arrogant sense. But that’s not Brandon Montour at all. He’s the complete opposite. He’s a very humble kid and a great guy to be around.”

Montour said he arrived just hoping to be part of something successful.

“I just wanted to come in and have a positive attitude and work hard everyday. I wanted to work on my game and be a good teammate,” Montour said. “If you have a good attitude and work hard, guys will respect you whoever you are.”

The recent success is not all Montour. The whole team has played better putting the dreadful first half of the season behind it. Most encouraging has been the play of the freshmen and sophomores. In the nine games since Dec. 28, UMass freshmen have accounted for 11 goals and 28 assists, while sophomores have eight goals and 11 assists. That’s 67.9 percent of the goals and 84.8 percent of the assists since Christmas tallied by players who have at least two years of eligibility left.

Five of UMass’ top-six scorers, which doesn’t include Montour, aren’t even halfway through their collegiate eligibility. Sophomore Frank Vatrano’s 13 goals are fourth in Hockey East, while Dennis Kravchenko (eight goals, 13 assists) and Patrick Lee (four goals, 11 assists) are among the league’s top 10 freshman scorers. Sophomore Steven Iacobellis is one of the conference’s most promising players at both ends of the ice.

“We knew coming in that it was going to be a very young team and it wasn’t going to happen overnight. We knew it would be a learning process,” Power said. “After Christmas, there’s a saying, ‘There’s no freshmen anymore.’ Everybody here has gotten a taste of what it means to be successful in college hockey. For us it took until that break.”

Micheletto said Montour has helped pull it together.

“We knew there would be some inconsistency and a learning curve for everybody. We knew we’d be better in the second half building toward playing as well as we can heading into the playoffs,” he said. “Brandon’s addition kind of made us whole. It allows us to do the things we anticipated being able to do.”

While the improvement has sparked optimism for the near future, things could be even brighter a little further down the road.

“Hopefully in the years to come we’ll keep getting better and better with more time with each other. It’s exciting to see what we can do here,” Montour said. “Before I got here I had no idea what to expect. It was an adjustment and it still is. We’re getting better day by day.”

Micheletto said Montour has helped the Minutemen start to become the team he’s been trying to build.

“We had something in our mind’s eye when we got here, what we wanted it to look like,” he said. “I’d like to think we’re rounding into what the vision was and we’re only going to get better as the weeks and months progress here.”

Matt Vautour can be reached at mvautour@gazettenet.com. Get UMass coverage delivered in your Facebook news feed at www.facebook.com/GazetteUMassCoverage


 


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