If you’re a sports fan, you almost certainly maintain affectionate memories not only for great players but for journeyman players who had memorable moments. When the Flames made an upset run to the Stanley Cup finals in 2004, they lost a couple defensemen, and had to plug a couple of very raw young players into the lineup. One of them, Steve Montador, played a surprisingly strong game in the last NHL playoff game I saw live, when Calgary eliminated Detroit in overtime Game 6. (After maybe an hour of sleep, I flew back to Seattle at 7AM the next morning and delivered what I’m sure was a stirring lecture on the Mongolian judicial system that afternoon.) And then, in Game 1 of the conference finals against San Jose, Montador had a moment no fan of the team at that time will ever forget:
I remember it like it was yesterday: the brutal Sharks line change, the beautiful feed from Iginla, the minor-hockey beaver tail from Montador (which you can see Sutter and his assistants laughing about on the replay.) This wasn’t the beginning of a great career, but it was an admirable one all the same — an undrafted player who played almost 600 NHL games as was well-liked wherever he went.
Montador died today — he was only 35. He had severe problems with concussions at the end of his career, so it’s hard not to speculate, but at this time the cause is unknown. R.I.P.
I need to write a longer post about this, but John Branch’s Boy On Ice — about the premature death of Derek Boogaard, based on his superb NYT series — is very much worth reading for those interested in the concussion crisis in pro sports.