Ex-DU coach Jim Montgomery is back at the NHL All-Star Game: “You’d run through a wall for a guy like that”

TORONTO — Only one of the four coaches who earned the chance to participate in the NHL All-Star Game a year ago is back at the midseason event, and he’s also the only one who had to replace two of the best centers in franchise history.

Jim Montgomery won the Jack Adams Award last year after helping the Boston Bruins to an NHL-record 65 wins and 135 points in his first season with the club. The crazy thing is the former Denver University coach might be doing a better job in year two.

The Bruins were expected to take a significant step back without future Hall of Fame member Patrice Bergeron and longtime No. 2 center David Krejci. And yet, here they are — atop the Eastern Conference with 71 points.

“That speaks for itself. He’s an incredible coach, an incredible human being and an incredible leader,” Bruins goalie Jeremy Swayman said. “He’s here for a reason. He’s led us in the right direction, no matter what kind of locker room he has to deal with. He’s been truthful and been so passionate about what he wants us to achieve. As a player, you’d run through a wall for a guy like that. I know we have nothing but the best attitude coming to the rink every day knowing that he’s going to bring that same energy and attitude. It’s not a fluke whatsoever why he’s here again, and will probably be here in the coming years.”

Montgomery called Bergeron “the Jean Beliveau of the Boston Bruins.” He was the heart and soul of the organization for years, but retired after the 2022-23 season. Krejci did as well. Just like that, the Bruins were short two of the top-10 scorers in franchise history.

Boston did not have the cap room to replace them. The Bruins had to trade former No. 1 pick Taylor Hall in a cost-cutting move as well.

They re-worked the roster, building around their two world-class wings David Pastrnak and Brad Marchand, and one of the league’s top goalie tandems with Swaymen and Linus Ullmark. They bet on the culture. So far, it’s been the right call.

“We lost a  lot of great players, but the key has been our leadership,” Montgomery said. “That culture of us wanting to get better every day, caring for each other, not as players but as people, really adds a lot. When the games get close, we dig in for each other.

“The thing I find is as long as you’re honest and you give real information to the players that they can use — like we didn’t have a very good December, but we came out of that and it was good that we went through all that together. It was hard, but we got better.”

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The Bruins’ success might be unexpected in many NHL circles, but not for Avs forward Logan O’Connor. He played for Montgomery at DU. They won an NCAA championship together in 2017.

O’Connor watched one of his mentors reach the NHL with the Dallas Stars, fall after being fired and revealing he struggled with alcoholism, and rise again after going through a rehabilitation process. Montgomery spent two seasons as an assistant with the St. Louis Blues before getting a second chance with the Bruins, and to this point he’s made the most of it.

“It was hard, seeing him deal with those mental battles and addiction battles, but seeing him get help and follow that process to put him in a better place as a person for his family and those around him,” O’Connor said. “I think it was great to see him make the rebound and adjustments he needed in his life.

“I think just think as a coach, how he connects with players on a personal basis and really gets the most out of them is honestly incredible. … The success he’s had in the NHL is no surprise. I’ve always said he’s going to win the Stanley Cup at some point.”

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