Six minutes into Saturday’s game, Alaska-Fairbanks forward Aaron Lee got behind the Michigan defense and skated in toward Michigan goalie Al Montoya on a breakaway. Lee tried to slip a shot to Montoya’s left, but the junior goalie snagged Lee’s attempt out of the air with his glove.
The Michigan netminder looked like the Montoya of old.
After four consecutive games in which he surrendered at least three goals, Montoya held the Nanooks to just two goals in each contest this weekend.
“I thought he made a great glove save on Aaron Lee early in the game,” Alaska-Fairbanks coach Tavis MacMillan said. “You know, that’s a big save. That’s a timely save. If you’re going to be successful, you need those saves early in the game.”
Montoya made those saves throughout the entire game. He was flawless in the first two periods when he turned away 19 shots. He limited Alaska-Fairbanks’s rebound opportunities and looked sharp throughout.
“(Montoya) was rock solid,” Michigan coach Red Berenson said. “I think this was his best weekend.”
The New York Rangers first-round draft pick has struggled between the pipes in his third season in Ann Arbor. Statistically, he is having his worst year at Michigan. His 2.68 goals-against-average is worse than both his freshman and sophomore seasons when he surrendered 2.33 and 2.23 goals per game, respectively. In addition, his save percentage is at .897, which is lower than the .911 and .917 numbers that he put up in his first two years. But even with all his struggles, Montoya has come up big when his team has needed him most, and it shows in his 17-4-1 record.
During Michigan’s 6-5 win at Western Michigan last weekend, Montoya scrambled to make countless game-saving stops to preserve a 5-5 tie and then a 6-5 lead.
With the series sweep this weekend, Montoya set a career-best winning streak with his eighth-straight win.
Berenson and the rest of the team have been quick to point out that the onus does not fall squarely on Montoya. They maintain that the whole team– — from the forwards back to Montoya — are to blame for a number of the opponents’ goals.
If this weekend is any indication, Montoya and the rest of the defense may return to the form they displayed during the last two seasons.
On Saturday, Montoya was headed for a shutout, but, with four minutes remaining in the game, Alaska-Fairbanks finally got on the board. Alaska-Fairbanks defenseman Darcy Campbell fired a shot from the left circle that hit off the far post. Forward Jared Sylvestre hit in the rebound and prevented Montoya from logging his 13th career shutout at Michigan.
“We were just looking for the win and that’s what we got,” Montoya said. “We’re happy about it. I don’t really care about shutouts. It’s always good to come away with a win at the end. I felt good. I felt I did all I could do to stop the puck.”
Even though Montoya said he was not concerned about getting a shutout, sophomore forward T.J. Hensick expressed wishes that the team could have helped him out a little more.
“Most of the goals that he gave up (this weekend) were scored on second chances and weren’t his fault,” Hensick said. “We’ve got to clear the front of the net. It’s frustrating not to get him the shutout. He said he didn’t want it, but the team wanted to get it for him. It’s definitely a disappointment.”