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The Puck Stops with Monty

By Ed Weaver

Troy Record, February 1, 2008

In his internet blog last week, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute assistant hockey coach Jim Montgomery took the full responsibility for the Engineers' woeful power play efficiency this season.

It was a class gesture by a high-character guy.

Montgomery captained the University of Maine's 1992-93 NCAA Championship team and was a part of a devastating power play before playing parts of six seasons (one full) in the National Hockey League among a 12-year professional career.

Before a pair of goals last weekend at Clarkson and St. Lawrence, the RPI power play had produced seven goals in 121 opportunities, a 5.8 percent efficiency rate. And two of those seven goals had come on long, 5-on-3 advantages.

"The power play has been abysmal all year and I have to take the blame for our futility," Montgomery told other bloggers. "(Head) coach (Seth) Appert has entrusted the power play to me and I have not been able to get the desired results."

Montgomery talked about the RPI power-play problems at great length earlier this week, saying he saw some progress in last week's games.

"I thought the guys supported one another better and they knew what they wanted to do with the puck before they got (a pass)," Montgomery said, "which is the key to quick puck movement and body movement.

"Yes, that has been a problem and that's why I take full blame because I could not find the right people and put them in the right spots on the power play and obviously my message was not getting through."

The less than six percent figure, 25 games into the season, grated on Montgomery.

"Five percent," he said. "I mean, you can take five players from any junior team and they're going to do better," he said, "just by luck of bounces.

"It's been a great learning situation for myself and the rest of the staff on how to deal with that frustration and I think we'll be better coaches because of it, but we're not happy that we had to learn it this way."

Montgomery lists the top power-play as two-thirds of the all-freshman line that's been quite productive lately - Tyler Helfrich and Chase Polacek - as well as Jon Ornelas, Andrew Lord and defenseman Jeff Foss.

The second unit is comprised of forwards Jake Morissette, Scott Halpern, Ben Contini, Matt Angers-Goulet and defenseman Bryan Brutlag.

"Both units moved the puck around well and created scoring chances (last weekend)," Montgomery said.

The 12 shorthanded goals RPI has allowed also rankles Montgomery.

"We've had shorthanded goals scored against us with two defensemen out there, no defenseman out there, we even had one scored against us with three defensemen out there," he said. "The majority of them have happened (two have been into an empty net) with four forwards but the idea of a power play is to create offense and you have to get you best offensive players out there."

Montgomery's confident the efficiency level of the RPI power play will improve to the level needed for team to put together some wins and be home for the preliminary round of the ECAC Hockey playoffs.

"Yes, I am because I think you're starting to see the players start to take hold of certain roles that they have to have and power play is a role that someone has to take pride in," he said." Special teams make up, on average, 35 percent of every game. And if we win that battle, that's 35 percent of the game that we're ahead of already. And I think if we were doing that earlier, we'd have four or five more wins, especially some of those games that teams came back on us in the third (period). Some of those (games) could have been out of reach."

Montgomery has reached out to many different coaches for help.

"I've spoken with a number of different (coaching) staffs," he said, "to see what they do. When we were in Tampa I spoke with the Flyers (who were there at that time too) head coach, a former teammate of mine, John Stevens, I talked to Paul Kariya.

"It's funny," Montgomery said, "almost every coach I talked to was frustrated with his power play."

None was well under 10 percent, however.

Montgomery, the top scorer in Maine's storied history with 301 points (103-198-301), scored three third-period goals to lift the Black Bears to a 5-4 victory over Lake Superior State in the 1993 national championship game.

Sometimes, Montgomery, who combined with the likes of Scott Pellerin, Keith Carney, Jean-Yves Roy, Cal Ingraham and Kariya to give the Black Bears intimidating power plays, wishes he could put on the skates and go on the ice for two minutes to help the RPI power play.

"You do," he said, "but that's part of becoming a better coach, getting you message through to them so that they're executing properly, so that you're not on the bench saying, ‘pass now, shoot now' in your head.'''

Friendly fight: Freshmen Foss and Halpern squared off and attempted punches (none landed well) during Wednesday's practice.

Appert said it was no big deal and lasted less than 20 seconds.

"Usually, that's a sign that the intensity and the competitive level of the practice is very high, and the energy's high and (players) are trying to get better," Appert said, "and so they're a little angry, because of certain situations. While we don't try to encourage those situations but if they happen naturally … that doesn't bother us."

Too too few: Lord scored one goal in each game last weekend.

Precious few times this season has an RPI player found the net in consecutive games.

"I have no idea," Lord said when asked if he knew how many. "Hopefully, it'll be more often now."

Lord joins Angers-Goulet, Helfrich and Ornelas (each one time) as the only Engineers to score goals in two straight games.