In what had been to some only a matter of time ever since the NHL revived itself last week, Michigan goaltender Al Montoya signed a three-year contract with the New York Rangers yesterday, forgoing his senior season in Ann Arbor. Terms of the deal were not disclosed.
The Wolverines now lose their starting goalie and will have Noah Ruden, Mike Mayhew and incoming freshman Billy Sauer to battle for the No. 1 spot.
Montoya, 20, was the Rangers' first-round pick in the 2004 NHL Entry Draft. Selected sixth overall, he was the second-highest drafted player in school history.
"It's disappointing to lose a player who is going into his senior year," head coach Red Berenson said. "He had a lot of pressure from the New York Rangers organization to turn professional and he made the decision to do it. He had a good career at Michigan, but I wish he would have stayed and enjoyed his senior year."
But while Berenson was obviously peeved, the Rangers are ecstatic.
“Al is one of the top goaltending prospects in hockey and we are extremely pleased to have signed him,” stated Rangers president and general manager Glen Sather. “We feel this will be a big step for Al in advancing his development. He has been working extremely hard this summer and we are looking forward to seeing him on the ice at training camp in September.”
In his junior year at U-M in 2004-05, Montoya equaled his career high of 30 wins, previously set in 2002-03 as a freshman. His 2004-05 winning percentage of .788 (30-7-3) was his career best. He posted a goals-against average of 2.52 and a save percentage of .895. Montoya was also an alternate captain during his junior campaign.
He enjoyed his best season at Michigan during his sophomore year of 2003-04. He set the Michigan record for single-season shutouts with six while also compiling career bests in GAA (2.23) and save percentage (.917). For his efforts he was rewarded as a second team West All-American, All-Northeast Regional team honoree and All-CCHA second-team selection. Additionally, he earned CCHA All-Academic honorable mention.
As a 17-year-old freshman in 2002-03, Montoya started all 43 games for the Maize and Blue squad that reached the NCAA Frozen Four. His season line of 30-10-3 with a 2.33 GAA, a .911 save percentage and four shutouts earned him numerous accolades. He was named the Most Outstanding Player of the Midwest Regional, a member of the CCHA Super Six all-tournament team, and selected to the CCHA All-Rookie team.
Montoya took time in the middle of the 2003-04 and 2004-05 seasons to play for the United States World Junior Championship team. In January 2004 he backstopped Team USA to its first gold medal at the International Ice Hockey Federation World Junior Championship. In six contests he went 6-0-0, had a .944 save percentage with a 1.33 GAA and two shutouts. He received the Directorate Award as the tournament's top goaltender and was on the all-tournament team.
In 2005, he again earned the nod as the U.S. starting goalie. Team USA took fourth place as Montoya went 3-4-0 with a 3.36 GAA and a .904 save percentage.
All of those accomplishments, though, are in the past. Montoya has his eyes fixed on the future and tending goal on Broadway.
The competition (in New York) is great,” Montoya told reporters via teleconference yesterday. “No matter where you go or where you are, you have to beat the best to be the best. I think the competition is going to make me a better player. I think I'm definitely capable and have the talent. I'd never want to sell myself short. So, obviously, I'm going to go to training camp and do the best I can do."
Over his three-year career, Montoya compiled a career record of 86-29-8 (.732) with a 2.36 GAA, .908 save percentage and 13 shutouts. He helped U-M reach the NCAA Frozen Four in 2003 and NCAA Regional finals in 2004 and 2005. The Wolverines won CCHA regular-season titles in 2003-04 and 2004-05 and CCHA tournament championships in 2002-03 and 2004-05 with Montoya in between the pipes. His .908 career save percentage is tied for first all-time at U-M with Bob Gray (1962-64), while he ranks third in shutouts (13) and GAA (2.36) and fourth in wins (86) in the Michigan record book.
Ruden, a senior, and Mayhew, a junior, have seen limited action over the past three years, though Ruden filled in admirably at last year’s Great Lakes Invitational while Montoya was at the World Junior Tournament. Ruden was named top goalie at the GLI as Michigan lost in overtime to Michigan State in the finals. Sauer, just 17, is fast-tracking through high school to become college-eligible this fall. Had Montoya returned, Sauer would have came to Michigan next fall.