Montoya's path paved with support

Updated: June 24, 2004, 6:43 PM ET
By Mike Eidelbes | Special to ESPN.com

In the weeks leading up to Saturday's NHL entry draft, Al Montoya tried to avoid all things related to the event. But the University of Michigan goaltender can hide no longer. He arrived in Raleigh, N.C., on Wednesday afternoon and will spend the rest of the week living, breathing and eating the draft.

We caught up with Montoya at his hotel room before he was swept away in a whirlwind of interviews and public appearances. With less than two days until the cornerstone in his NHL future is set, he used most of our discussion to retrace the steps he took to get where he is today -- a story that includes his mother, Naval intelligence and a snug-fitting suit.

"You get off the airplane and you see the signs for the draft everywhere welcoming everyone. You start to feel that much closer as every day goes by, but you get here and go to the hotel and see all the general managers and all the scouts ... you definitely feel it's getting closer. I ran into Darryl Sutter, the Calgary coach and GM, and talked to him for a little bit.

"I think the two days before the draft are going to be the longest days. Everything I'm going to be doing and talking about will be about the draft. I'm going to try and enjoy it as much as possible, but I'm a little tense.

"On Saturday, I'm wearing one of the suits I originally wore when I started playing junior hockey. It still fits ... sort of. I wanted to wear something that got me started. In a way, it's special. It's lucky in the sense that it's gotten me this far ... but it sort of wore off when I couldn't fit into the pants as well. I may look like a fool.

"There are several great goaltenders in this draft and it's a privilege to be a part of that. I tried all year to be the [top-ranked] goalie. When it comes down to it, I have no control over that. Whichever team takes me, I feel like I'll live up to what I've shown so far. And with all the great college players that are in the draft this year, [being the first NCAA player picked] would be a great honor. In recent years, college hockey has turned into a great developmental [opportunity] for NHL players.

"In a sense it does come down to what you do on the ice ... but when someone is going to invest something in you, I would want to be sure of how [the player] acts, what his goals are, what his priorities are. I could be stopping the puck right now, but if other factors were thrown in, teams need to know how I would deal with it. A large portion of it is also what you do off the ice.

"The reasons I'm at this level in hockey and in school are because of my mother and my family. I can't tell you enough about her. There are so many things. The reason I'm going in the right direction is because of my mother and she's led me this far. When it's time for me to make decisions on my own, I'll always have her support. I can't even tell you how much she's meant to me.

"This is the first time my family has been able to get together for a long time. My older brother just came back from Japan. He graduated from the Naval Academy last year and works in intelligence. After the draft, we're all going to head down to Hilton Head and have our first family vacation in about seven years.

"My billets when I played with the [North American Hockey League's Texas] Tornado are here, and my aunt made the trip. It makes this even more enjoyable because the reason I'm here is because of the people like that ... people that are close to me helped give me the opportunity that I have.

"I love playing hockey ... it gives you opportunities and advantages that other people won't be able to do. I love to travel, I love to see new and different things and I'm open to everything. I think that's why it's made my transition everywhere I've gone that much easier. The opportunities I've been given have been unreal."

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

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