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Bryce Montgomery finds a hockey home with Cedar Rapids RoughRiders
Carolina Hurricanes draft pick left major junior team in Canada to come to the United States Hockey League
CEDAR RAPIDS — Long after practice had concluded last week, and the majority of Cedar Rapids RoughRiders players already had showered, dressed and headed out of their locker room at ImOn Ice and toward home, Bryce Montgomery was still doing work.
The newest RoughRider had just completed a workout in the team’s weight room and was doing sprints on the adjacent concourse. Off he ran about 50 yards one direction before stopping, taking a very quick pause to catch his breath and running another 50 yards back the other direction.
“Most important, we really like what he brings off the ice,” RoughRiders Coach Mark Carlson said. “He’s a real pro, up in the weight room right now. He’s a positive presence in the room. He goes about his business the way we want all of our guys to. He’s a veteran junior player with a lot of experience, and I think that’s something ... leading by example that is going to rub off on a lot of our guys.”
Pardon the cross-sports reference here, but Carlson appeared to hit a home run when he added Montgomery to the roster a couple of weeks ago. The 19-year-old defenseman from the Washington, D.C., area was caught in a bit of a squeeze as an overage player with the London Knights of the major junior Ontario Hockey League in Canada.
A sixth-round draft pick of the NHL’s Carolina Hurricanes in 2021, Montgomery wants to turn pro after this season. He needs maximum playing time to develop and get that opportunity.
He felt the United States Hockey League, specifically the RoughRiders, would provide that playing time. So he made the jump.
“There was a big logjam there in the OHL. Overage spots started to get tight, and I didn’t want to keep missing games before something opened up,” Montgomery said. “My agent knew Mark Carlson very well, and he’s got a few guys on this team, too, my agent. He thought this would be the best spot for me, and Carolina agreed with it as well. We thought it was the best spot for me to do my overage year here.”
His agent, Jerry Buckley, represents defenseman Joe Fleming, who played last season in Cedar Rapids and signed a free-agent contract with the Vegas Golden Knights. He’s also the advisor for current Riders defenseman Brendan Fitzgerald.
Montgomery talked with Fleming and Fitzgerald about C.R., and the pair gave him glowing reviews. Montgomery and Fitzgerald have been paired together in the two games the Riders have played with them both available.
Cedar Rapids plays Saturday night at Des Moines.
“Honestly, I think people up there (in Canada) were thinking this was a step down,” Montgomery said. “But I already know the league here, I’m an American player, so I know how it is, I know guys here. I knew it was not going to be an easy league where I could just come in and dominate. Carolina knows the same thing, too, that this is a really good league, and there’s not much of a difference at all. I kind of knew it was still going to be competitive, so that’s why I was excited to come here.”
Montgomery brings size at 6-foot-5, but also can skate and move the puck. He didn’t provide much offense for London in his two-plus seasons there and said that is an area he wants to improve with Cedar Rapids.
“I just want to play games, play as many games as I can at the junior level to polish anything else I need to polish in my game,” he said.
Montgomery’s father, Matthew, was a Division III All-American at Saint Mary’s University in Minnesota. He is in the school’s athletics hall of fame.
His mother, Kim Robinson, lettered four years in basketball at the University of California. His younger brother, Blake, is a hockey defenseman and emerging prospect who is in prep school.
“On the ice, he’s a big, mobile defender who can move the puck. And he certainly has a nastiness to him, a mean streak to him. He’s been a real positive addition,” Carlson said. “It wasn’t a concern (bringing him in) because we felt we knew him so well, speaking with his agent and players that knew him. We felt that we really knew what we were getting as a person. If we didn’t feel that way, we wouldn’t have brought him in.”
Montgomery said he doesn’t regret going the major junior route. Every player has his own path in the game.
He had committed to play at Providence before giving up his college eligibility by heading to Canada. Major junior players receive a stipend from their teams, Montgomery saying it’s $235 every two weeks, with overage (18 or older) receiving $400 every two weeks.
Former longtime NHL player Basil McRae owns the London franchise, its head coach being former longtime NHL player Dale Hunter.
“For me, at that time, I felt that was the best situation for me, (with) the reputation that London has around hockey,” Montgomery said. “I thought that was the best place for me to develop, to be around other NHL signees, some future pros as well. The coach has a tremendous history in hockey, too.
“At that point in time, it was kind of a golden ticket, and I didn’t want to look back and say I passed that up. I still don’t regret that decision at all. Just being able to kind of soak it all in and see what it takes.”
He also doesn’t regret leaving the OHL and coming to the USHL.
“It’s been really good,” he said. “The guys are awesome, the coaches are awesome. It’s been pretty easy kind of easing into the group and kind of getting acquainted with everybody and how things run around here.
“I think it’s a pretty even score, I don’t think there’s really much of a difference at all (between the leagues). Maybe the playing styles are a bit different. A little bit less open, there’s less lanes open, there’s less room maybe to make the more skilled play you want to make. There are (still) those opportunities, though.”
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