Prior to being officially named the 29th head coach in Boston Bruins history Friday afternoon, Jim Montgomery received a congratulatory phone call from one of his former University of Maine teammates, Andy Silverman.
“I told Jimmy that I couldn’t be happier for him and couldn’t wait to see him in Boston,” said the 49-year-old Silverman, a Beverly native who still makes his home in the Centerville section of the city.
“You just wait,” added Silverman. “Jimmy’s going to be one of the best coaches in Boston history.”
Silverman was a 6-foot-3, defensively responsible sophomore backliner on the 1992-93 Black Bear men’s hockey team that went 42-1-2 and is believed by many to be the best team in college hockey history. The captain of that legendary squad — which included freshman phenom, 100-point scorer and future Hockey Hall of Famer Paul Kariya, as well as linemate Cal Ingraham of Georgetown, goalies Garth Snow and Mike Dunham (now Boston’s goalie development coach), brothers Peter and Chris Ferraro, among many others — was Montgomery.
“It started with the coaching; our staff was legendary,” said Silverman. “Shawn Walsh was the head of the ship; he knew when to push the right buttons for us, but also when to let up when we needed some coddling to get back on track. Greg Cronin, Red Gendron, Guy Perron, Grant Stanbrook, (Topsfield’s) Bruce Major … they were all amazing.
“That style trickled down to the captain, and Jimmy being a born leader corralled his teammates around him and put us on his back. He knew everyone’s job on the team and held everyone accountable, and we all bought into what he was saying.”
In emulating the coaches and leading in a way that suited his style, Montgomery gave the younger Silverman what he called “a great foundation for learning, bettering my game and helping me to become a better person.”
He clearly remembers what he feels was Montgomery’s most influential talk to his fellow Black Bears, coming after the second intermission of the 1993 NCAA title game at the Bradley Center in Wisconsin. Lake Superior State held a 4-2 lead over Maine and was 20 minutes away from a monumental upset, but Montgomery did not panic when addressing his teammates.
“Jimmy stood up in the room and said, ‘We’re going to win this game. I have no doubt’,” recalled Silverman. “He said ‘Nothing changes; let’s just go out and do our thing.’ It just gave everyone a boost.
“Then he goes out and behold! He scores a hat trick and we win the national championship, 5-4.”
Points of reference
The leadership qualities he exhibited in the locker room and on the ice, said Silverman, made it a natural transition for Montgomery to move into coaching once his own playing days were over.
Montgomery has worked behind benches in the USHL, the American Hockey League, the NCAA (with the University of Denver, including a 2017 NCAA title) and the NHL, including a stint as head coach of the Dallas Stars. All that experiences makes Silverman very excited to see what he’ll do in Boston.
“I’m not at all surprised Jimmy went into coaching because he’s a chameleon. He can relate to anyone,” said Silverman. “He’s a player’s coach, and that’s a big thing. Some coaches like a John Tortorella want to intimidate you and put themselves on a pedestal, but that’s not Jimmy. He doesn’t speak down to you; he speaks with you.
Montgomery’s coaching style, said Silverman, is greatly based on what he learned under Walsh in Maine.
“He uses about a dozen points of reference to win a game,” said Silverman. “Such as, if you win 65 percent of your faceoffs, your team is going to win the game. If your team doesn’t allow a goal in the first or last minute of a period, you’re going to win the game. If you don’t take any undisciplined penalties or allow too many odd man rushes, you’re going to win the game.
“He knows what he has on his team coming in,” added Silverman, “that (Brad) Machand, (Charlie) McAvoy, (Matt) Grzelcyk had offseason surgery and will miss the first few months and that (captain Patrice) Bergeron had elbow surgery. He knows the team will be young coming into camp, there are bound to be injuries, and such. But Jimmy sees a way to plug these holes. He’s a real student of the game and has learned under some of the greatest coaches “
Black Bear cheering section
Silverman had the honor of following Montgomery as captain of the Black Bears for the 1993-94 season, then turned pro. The New York Rangers’ 1990 draft pick out of Beverly High School played professionally for seven seasons (AHL, ECHL, and in Germany) before retiring in 2000.
With a degree in exercise physiology from Maine, Silverman went into personal training and has remained in that field ever since. He works with clients in their homes from eight to 88 years old, is affiliated with some fitness companies, and also works with athletes (specifically hockey) with 1-on-1 training.
He’s his own boss who makes his own schedule and has plenty of time, along with his wife Gina, to watch their two twin 8-year-olds, Natalie and Caroline, as they strive towards earning their black belts in taekwondo.
As you might expect, the members of that ’93 national championship club have remained extremely tight with one another over the years. They were most recently inducted together into the UMaine Hall of Fame in 2018, and Silverman said of all the teams he ever played on, this was — and remains — the tightest he’s ever been a part of.
“I know a lot of us will be at a lot of the games this year cheering Jimmy on. We’ll probably have our own Black Bear suite,” Silverman said with a chuckle.