DETROIT – Al Montoya has done a pretty good job of hiding the fact that he is the youngest player in college hockey. He ranks in the top 10 in the nation in goals against average and minutes played, and has done everything the Wolverines have asked.
But now the real challenge starts.
With so much riding on this weekend’s contests – Red Berenson’s 500th career win, Senior Night on Friday, the Michigan-Michigan State rivalry and playoff positioning – Michigan associate head coach Mel Pearson felt that the pressure was starting to get to the 18-year-old netminder.
“The team is going to go as far as he can take us,” Pearson said. “The way he deals with that pressure is going to be huge.”
On Friday and most of the game Saturday, Montoya didn’t look like the netminder the Wolverines have become accustomed to. The majority of the eight goals he gave up on 43 shots this weekend were on shots the freshman usually stops
The woes started for Montoya in the first period on Friday as Joe Markusen sent a lob shot through the zone that went past Montoya’s glove for the defender’s first goal of the season.
Then, minutes later, Brian Maloney dumped a shot that Montoya appeared to cover up, but the puck trickled behind him to his right for Lee Falardeau to tap in, leaving a deficit Michigan was not able to overcome.
Montoya struggled again minutes into Saturday’s contest as he mishandled a John-Michael Liles shot from the blueline to give the Spartans an early lead. Then after giving up two goals through the five hole, Montoya muffed an Ash Goldie shot from the blueline off his glove.
But, unlike Friday night, Michigan put together a strong second and third period to pull out the victory.
“Our team has to play well in front of him,” Pearson said. “I don’t think we did (Friday). (But) we’re going to have to help him tighten up and get through the tough weekend.”
Montoya battled back to make some key saves in the second period with the game tied at three.
“The saves gave me confidence,” Montoya said. “Also, we’re in the game the whole time, so we have to keep battling no matter what the score is. So I just kept battling no matter what.”
As Montoya has played as many games so far this season as he did last season, the upcoming CCHA and NCAA tournaments will test his physical and mental stamina. “Right now we have to rest him as much as we can,” Pearson said. “More for the mental rest than anything.”
When Montoya next steps on the ice, his ability to deal with coming off a bad weekend is going to be tested.
“As you get older, you learn to deal with adversity,” Michigan goaltending coach Stan Matwijw said. “Al’s got to learn to let things go. If one squeaks by that he feels he should have had, he should just let it go and worry about the next one.”