Speculation increases as draft day nears

Updated: June 17, 2004, 4:20 PM ET
By Mike Eidelbes | Special to ESPN.com

Even though the draft is little more than a week away, Michigan goaltender Al Montoya had a few leftover thoughts from last month's trip to Tampa when he attended Game 2 of the Stanley Cup finals with four other top prospects -- two from the major junior ranks and two from Russia, which made for a unique social dynamic.

Prior to departing for Raleigh, N.C., Montoya will immerse himself in a more familiar group setting. He's leaving Ann Arbor for his home in Glenview, Ill., where he'll catch up with family and friends for a few days. Being in Chicago, however, doesn't spell an end to the litany of questions he faced from acquaintances and well-wishers in Michigan interested in his opinions on the draft and speculation on which team will choose him. The most popular query he'll face from folks back home: whether he'll be picked by the hometown Blackhawks.

Al Montoya
Al Montoya posted a 26-12-2 record with a 2.23 for Michigan last season.
"I've never been thrown into that from a hockey standpoint ... not knowing anyone and having to be with them for three days. (Alexander) Ovechkin was the only one who had a translator, but he could still speak what I call 'locker room talk.' He's pretty entertaining. We all have the same goal, so we clicked right off the bat. We started talking and telling stories. It wasn't hard at all.

"All those guys are great guys, no doubt. But their whole life has been hockey since they were 16. For me, it's different. I've had to balance hockey, school and family. But it wasn't just being [the only collegian] ... it was also being the only U.S. kid. What I'm looking forward to [in Raleigh] is when they take the same prospects that were down in Tampa to a baseball game. It's Team Canada against Team USA."

"I try to steer clear of [draft speculation]. I hear things every now and then, but I won't go looking for it or start asking about it because you don't know where it's coming from and who's saying it and what it really is. It doesn't matter what anyone else thinks until draft day actually comes. But it's getting harder. I'm hearing more as we get closer to the draft, but it doesn't affect me much. Compared to Canada, where [hockey] is their No. 1 sport and it's all they talk about every day like our baseball or basketball, I imagine those guys get that all the time and people are always asking about it. Here, it's not as intense.

"The No. 1 question from people who know me but don't know me that well is, 'Are you definitely leaving school because you're going to the draft?' They have no idea that you can be picked in the NHL draft and stay in school or do whatever you choose. In basketball and football, obviously, once you're in the draft you can't go back to school.

"I've been pretty busy packing up and getting ready to go home. When I go back home, it'll start up again with friends and family and neighbors ... you have to hear the same questions and explain the same thing. I guess until after the draft, it won't really shut down.

"I have a lot of family in Chicago right by where I live ... all my aunts, my uncle. Usually in the summertime on the weekends, like on Sundays, we'll have a barbecue and the whole family comes and it's a pretty big deal. Everybody brings their own dishes ... it's pretty ethnic.

"When I was young, I wanted to be like the Blackhawks. Being able to watch (Tony) Amonte, (Ed) Belfour, (Jeremy) Roenick and all the guys ... it was unbelievable. The city revolved around hockey. I never made it [to Chicago Stadium]. But every time I go to the United Center or talk to people in the hockey world about Chicago, that's the first thing they always bring up. It was one of the loudest buildings ever.

"It would be nice [to be drafted by Chicago], but they have about 30 goalies who are really good and they probably don't need another one right now. It would be something pretty amazing but at the same time, you never know. It could be a distraction. Personally, I think it would be an unbelievable experience.

"My mother and my three brothers will be in Raleigh. I have a 23-year-old brother and twin brothers that are a year younger than me ... 18 years old. The younger ones are really excited [about the draft] in a different kind of way. The older one, I've always looked up to, and he's just proud and happy he can be a part of it.

"[My family] are the ones who keep me grounded, especially my older brother. He was the one that put me back into place when I was out of line, said something or did something wrong, or if I'd beat him in something and he didn't like it. I learned quickly."

Mike Eidelbes is an editor for insidecollegehockey.com, an associate of ESPN.com.

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