Michigan goaltender Al Montoya plans to decide this week whether
to remain with the Wolverines or leave now with two years of
eligibility remaining to sign with the New York Rangers, who
selected him sixth overall in the recent NHL Draft and want him to
play this coming season with their top farm club.

Ice Hockey
The New York Rangers selected Montoya sixth overall and want him to join their system this year. (AP PHOTO)

“I’ll have my decision in five or six days,”
Montoya told The Michigan Daily on Saturday. “I’m right
in the middle right now.”

Losing Montoya would be a huge blow to the Wolverines, who will
have 11 seniors and expect to contend for the National Championship
this coming season. In his first two seasons Montoya,
Michigan’s MVP last year, has compiled a 56-22-5 record, 2.28
goals-against average and .914 save percentage.

Montoya’s backups, junior Noah Ruden and sophomore Mike
Mayhew, have logged just 6 percent of the team’s goaltending
minutes the past two seasons. If Montoya were to leave, the
Wolverines would likely scramble to bring in another goaltender
before the fall term begins in September.

Michigan has grown accustomed to seeing its players leave early
for the NHL. In the last five years, seven players have left with
eligibility remaining.

But none have been goaltenders, which is why losing Montoya
would hurt more than any previous loss. Michigan has seen talents
such as forward Mike Comrie and defenseman Mike Komisarek leave
early, but it had capable backups fill in and continued its streak
of consecutive NCAA tournament appearances, which is now at 14.

Before Montoya, the Wolverines had three consecutive four-year
starting goaltenders in Steve Shields, Marty Turco and Josh
Blackburn, and the stability the program has had at the position
has been a key to its success.

But those three hadn’t accomplished as much as quickly as
Montoya has. Though Montoya finished high school a year early and
came to Michigan at just 17, he enjoyed immediate success. This
past January, Montoya led the United States to the gold medal in
the World Junior Championships and was named the tournament’s
Most Outstanding Goaltender.

One important factor in Montoya’s decision is whether he
can develop as much at Michigan as he could in the Rangers’
system.

Before the draft, teams told Montoya that he needed to leave
Michigan so he could play more games. But it is not clear whether
playing for Hartford, the Rangers’ American Hockey League
affiliate, would accomplish that. The Rangers have two other highly
touted prospects in Dan Blackburn and Henrik Lundqvist, and if
Montoya was in Hartford along with one of the other two, they could
split time at goal.

And while the competition in the AHL may be better than in
college, Michigan assistant coach Billy Powers believes there are
other invaluable benefits to playing at Michigan.

“Could the quality of shots he’d face be better in
the American League? Maybe,” Powers said. “But the
pressure of that position at Michigan and the expectations of the
program at Michigan wouldn’t be there. There’s a ton of
pressure on the kid here, and we play a good schedule. We think he
would get everything development-wise at the American League for
another year at Michigan.”

Montoya has had a hectic week since the draft, which was held in
Raleigh, N.C. Montoya and his family first settled down for a
vacation in Hilton Head, S.C., but it didn’t last long. The
Rangers whisked him away to New York, where he got a brief taste of
the Big Apple. At Carnegie Deli he had a sandwich named after him,
and he met Jose Contreras, a Cuban pitcher on the Yankees
(Montoya’s mother is from Cuba).

The Wolverines already appear resigned to the fact that, if
Montoya does not sign with the Rangers now, he will next year.

“We may have to have a different conversation at the end
of his junior year because he’s that good and it’s time
to move on, but I don’t think we’ve quite reached that
stage yet,” Powers said. “He’s on the cusp, but I
think there’s more for him to get done here.”

Montoya believes that regardless of his decision this week, he
is two or three years away from being an NHL-caliber
goaltender.

“The way I look at it, either way I go, I’ll be
making the right decision,” Montoya said.

Four others selected: On the second day of the draft, two
current Wolverines and two incoming freshman were selected by
teams.

Forward Mike Brown, who scored eight goals his freshman year,
was chosen in the fifth round (159th overall) by the Vancouver
Canucks. Defenseman Matt Hunwick, who, as a freshman, lead the team
with a plus/minus rating of plus-12, was drafted by the Boston
Bruins in the seventh round (224th overall).

Forwards Kevin Porter and Chad Kolarik were both drafted by the
Phoenix Coyotes. Porter was drafted in the fourth round (119th
overall), while Kolarik went in the seventh round (199th
overall).

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