UMass hockey’s Brandon Montour is ready for liftoff

By Jason Kates

Brandon Montour and Frank Vatrano celebrate captain Troy Power's goal. (Cade Belisle/Flickr)
Brandon Montour and Frank Vatrano celebrate captain Troy Power’s goal. (Cade Belisle/Flickr)

Brandon Montour was among hundreds of players which filed into the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia agonizingly close to their dream of becoming professional hockey players.

Once there, he didn’t have to wait long.

Surrounded by his family and advisor at the 2014 NHL Entry Draft, Montour’s dream became reality when the Anaheim Ducks selected him with the 55th pick of the draft.

It was the highest any member of the Massachusetts hockey team was ever selected, and it happened before Montour ever stepped foot on the ice for the Minutemen.

“It was an incredible feeling that I’ll probably never forget,” the Ontario native said. “Me, my friends and my family used to watch it on TV in years past at home, and to see those guys walk up to the stage and get their jersey and meet the staff, it definitely gave me chills watching them.

“For me to actually be there and hear my name called by Anaheim was definitely a moment I’ll never forget.”

UMass coach John Micheletto, who made the trek to Philadelphia alongside assistant Joey Gasparini to be there, thought it was a wonderful moment when Montour’s name was announced.

“It was nice to be there and nice to witness,” he said. “You know, you go through a period of rewards for the hard work and sacrifices that both the player and parents make over time. Obviously, getting committed to school was a big one for Brandon and his family, to make sure he would get an education.

“Being drafted where he was, it was a really special moment for Brandon and his parents.”

Montour spent a week at Ducks rookie camp and was prepared to bring his game to Amherst. But the wait to see the Minutemen’s newest star would be longer than usual.

Easy Choice

Despite Montour’s impressive capabilities, he was a late-bloomer on many schools’ recruiting radars. UMass targeted him early and capitalized.

It took him just one visit to Amherst to realize UMass was the place he wanted to spend the next four years of his hockey career.

“I always wanted to go to college, and didn’t really want to wait it out and look for another place to go,” Montour said. “I came for a little visit before last year started with my parents, and ever since then I loved it. The coaches were probably a big influence on that. I loved them and everything they’ve done for me.

“I think the upside in this (program) was also a big boost and the facilities here did not make me think twice.”

Before receiving the commitment, Micheletto recognized Montour’s talent and potential,  and knew it would be crucial to get to him before others did.

“In the recruiting process, it was readily apparent that he had a tremendous amount of skill, particularly a good skater, and a guy that could provide offense,” Micheletto said.

“All of those things pushed us to a point pretty early on to want to pursue Brandon quickly because we thought his ceiling was going to be very, very high and that he was a bit under the radar at that point.”

When the Minutemen received the commitment, the feeling amongst the coaching staff was of pure ecstasy. He was joining a recruiting class that also consisted of Dennis Kravchenko, Patrick Lee, Maddison Smiley and Dominic Trento.

“It was good, we were really excited,” Micheletto said.

“He and his parents drove down here from where they live in Ontario and spent a better portion of the day and then drove home. When he called to let us know that he wanted to be a part of what we were doing here, we were very excited and knew he would be a big piece of the puzzle moving forward.”

The Minutemen were also getting a player rooted within the sport of hockey.

Family Matters

Growing up as the middle child, Montour was always with his two brothers, Cameron and Colin. All three were put into skates by their father at a young age, and became a competitive trio.

“We’re definitely a competitive family you could say,” Montour said. “A few broken windows and stuff like that, but it definitely helped us in our growth and our skill level throughout our careers.

“They don’t play too much anymore,” he added, “but they still give me texts and ask me how I’m doing, so it’s good motivation and good to have them with me.”

Throughout their childhood, Cameron said that often there would be when times two of the three boys would be at the other one’s games, which brought them even closer.

“All three of us were really close,” he said. “We spent basically every single day together. I’m a couple years older than (Brandon) so we’d watch our youngest brother play, and then we’d be playing so we were together a lot.

“Whenever we weren’t actually playing on the floor, we’d be out shooting pucks around the road or playing catch in the yard with lacrosse sticks,” said Montour, who was also a gifted lacrosse player.

With the amount of traveling required for hockey and lacrosse, there was a big weight on the shoulders of Montour’s parents Tammy and Cameron. To their credit, he said they delivered.

“From my dad’s standpoint he was always working and traveling far away, so my mom had to do most of the traveling when we were younger,” said Montour. “We were three boys playing lacrosse in the summer and hockey in the winter, so it was definitely busy for her driving us three.

“When my dad was around, he’d be all-in, and would come to every practice and game whenever he could, so they take full credit and I can’t thank them enough for what they’ve done.”

Delayed Arrival

Montour took an unorthodox path to Amherst.

Before the season began, the freshman was ruled ineligible by the NCAA for the entire first semester due to Clearinghouse issues. So he improvised.

Montour returned to Iowa to play for the Waterloo Black Hawks – a United States Hockey League team which drafted him a season before and a place he excelled. He did the only thing he knew how to do: he kept working.

“It was definitely tough,” Montour said of his time out. “When I was in Waterloo I was just thinking about working on my skills, but as the weeks went on and (UMass) got closer, it was just all excitement. When I finally got here it was unbelievable.”

Montour racked up the accolades while in Waterloo. He was named both the USHL Defenseman of the Year and Player of the Year in the 2013-14 season. Through 60 games played, Montour recorded an outstanding 62 points, including 48 assists.

Playing there, Montour said, was probably the best decision of his life, even though he didn’t know much about where he was going.

“I didn’t really know what Iowa was or what to expect from Iowa, but I headed out there last year and loved it ever since,” he said. “The team we had last year was probably one of the better junior teams in the USHL ever. The team and coaching staff helped me as a person and a player.”           

Montour’s oldest brother, Cameron, knew sitting out was not what Brandon had anticipated, but made sure to let him know to not get down on himself.

“He kind of bummed out because he was pretty excited to start the season,” Montour said. “I just told him to keep his head up and that these things happen for a reason and that he’d be just fine where he was.”

Micheletto credited Montour’s ability to handle the unfortunate circumstance and his willingness to continue his commitment to UMass and college hockey.

“He definitely made the best of it,” Micheletto said. “It certainly could have gone south and he could have not used the time to continue to push his game, strictly from a hockey standpoint.

“He certainly could have gotten discouraged and not done what academically needed to take place in order for him to be here, starting at the end of the first semester in the fall.

“All in all, he took what could’ve been a really discouraging and negative situation and did everything he could to make sure that he was here on campus ready to go to school and ready to play hockey.”

Time to Fly

On Dec. 16, the wait for Montour came to an end. There was a game pitting the Minutemen against conference foe Northeastern, and he was able to suit up and put on a Massachusetts sweater for the first time.

Eight games later, Montour has already collected his first goal and recorded six assists.

Micheletto can already tell the freshman will play a major role.

“Skating is a real obvious one,” he said regarding some of Montour’s greatest strengths. “You recognize it mostly on the offensive side, and people appreciate the fluid skating and mobility that allows him to play defense and not only be committed to the offensive side of it, but being able to get back and defend.

“He’s a dynamic player and a guy who teams will have to pay attention to.”

It is always a transition for players once they get their first taste of Hockey East action, but Montour thinks he’s adjusted well.

It’s been good,” he said. “I think I’m doing a lot of good things but there’s a lot of things I can work on, but that just comes with maturity and the games that keep coming. I thought I’ve played well and getting more comfortable with the guys is the biggest thing and getting to see what they like to do and see where they are on the ice, but I think it’s gone well so far.”

If these last eight games have shown anything, it is that watching Montour over the next four years will surely bring joy to Minutemen fans.

Jason Kates can be reached at [email protected] and followed at Jason_Kates