As Hitchcock Era Ends, Dallas Stars Dip Into NCAA For Coach Jim Montgomery

By Jacob Messing

After the retirement of Ken Hitchcock, the Dallas Stars’ search for a new head coach ended with Jim Montgomery out of the University of Denver.

After five standout season with the Pioneers, the 48-year-old rookie coach takes over a talented Stars team hoping to scrape back into the playoffs for the first time since 2015-16. Montgomery joins Philadelphia Flyers coach Dave Hakstol as the second NCAA-turned-NHL coach in last three years. 

Dallas general manager Jim Nill hopes Montgomery can follow a similar path to Hakstol, who took a young, skilled Flyers team to the playoffs in two of his first three seasons.

“I think the game is changing, and in the end it’s dealing with people,” Nill said Friday. “It’s dealing with the younger players, and on top of it, winning, and he’s done that.”

It’s easy to forget that Tyler Seguin, Jamie Benn and John Klingberg all remain in their 20s and are still entering their prime years. Montgomery will be the trio’s third coach in five years and a change of pace from previous veteran coaches Lindy Ruff and Hitchcock.

Ruff and Hitchcock were coaches who demanded defense and two-way reliability from their top players, which brought criticism for a league changing into offense supported by speed and skill.

Montgomery keeps the pattern going. He expects finished checks and blocked shots from all four lines. In five seasons with the Pioneers, Montgomery’s team posted a 125-57-26 record with five NCAA tournament appearances, including a national championship in 2017. 

During that time, Montgomery’s Pioneers drained opponents with enviable faceoff percentages and consistently playing on the edge. He has acknowledged that the numbers may be different in a league of this caliber of talent, but he believes his style can transition fully to the NHL. 

“When you've had success, you have to bring what's behind that success with you, and then you have to be smart enough to adjust,” Montgomery told Mike Heika of Sports Day. “I definitely need to look at everything, but I think the philosophy behind the numbers is sound.”

Montgomery spent 10 years on the NHL bubble with five different franchises from 1993-2003. His final nine games came with the Stars spread between 2001-03.

“You can always draw from your playing days. When I was in the American League, I was a go-to guy and when I was in the NHL I was patting guys to get over the boards and go get us a goal. Watching that helped me formulate my ideas,” Montgomery added to Heika.

Those ideas transitioned into coaching success—Montgomery won two Clark Cups in three years with the USHL’s Dubuque Fighting Saints, his first three years as a head coach.

“When I look at this lineup, I really get excited,” Montgomery said Friday. “It has everything you want. It has star power. . . . You have depth, you have size, you have skill, you have speed at every position.”

The odds may be stacked against a rookie coach, as immense pressure will be put on his shoulders from day one. In the end, Nill decided a fresh approach was his best course, which could help young, upcoming players earn spots knowing there are no favorites or preconceived notions from Montgomery.

That could also help Nill convince 23-year-old and 2013 top-10 pick Valeri Nichushkin to return after two years in the KHL. His elite skill would make the Stars even faster, bigger, and younger after leaving due to frustration with playing time and usage.

Have a question or a comment for Jacob? You can find him on Twitter @Jacob_Messing.

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