Jim Montgomery finally got to coach Auston Matthews on Saturday.
When ‘Monty’ was at the University of Denver nearly 10 years ago, the hot shot kid from the U.S. Development Program came on the NCAA radar. Like many others, Denver made a serious pitch to Matthews and his parents, hoping to capitalize on proximity to Matthews’ home in Scottsdale, Ariz., and the fine Pioneers’ program.
“I could have had him,” current Boston coach Montgomery said after their joint team won the NHL All-Star Game final. “But then he got offered half a million bucks.”
He was joking about Matthews deciding to skip school and a play a year of pro in Zurich, Switzerland, which brought him to first-round draft prominence in 2016.
“It was easy to coach him today. Just tell him to go over the boards and he scores. Again and again.”
Montgomery felt under-dressed next to celebrity captain Justin Bieber, who earned all the TV time for his oversized Marni red polka dot mohair puffer coat.
“We were laughing about it,” Matthews said. “We were saying Monty should chuck it on for second period (of the final). If you were up pretty high in the stands, no doubt you could pick (Stratford native Bieber) out of the crowd pretty easily.”
GOOD WILL HUNTING
Toronto-born actor/comedian Will Arnett warmed up the media crowd before Saturday’s games, chirping his opponent, singer Michael Buble, for making up the viral story he was on magic mushrooms while drafting his team on live TV with Quinn Hughes.
“I did a song for the Lego Batman Movie,” Arnett mock boasted. “And I performed it on stage at the Oscars. So, take that Buble.”
Arnett said he feels “pretty good” about his childhood Leafs this year, despite their inconsistencies.
“Do you want to be entertained? I do. Sometimes the entertainment takes a different shape. There has been some injuries, ups and downs, different goalies, etcetera. We know we’ve got a lot of great pieces with chemistry and when that chemistry is firing, it works really, really well.
“This league, you just have to get in the playoffs. The last thing you want to worry about is winning the Presidents’ Trophy.
The scheduling gods shined on Islanders’ Mathew Barzal, who can stay and meet his teammates here for Monday’s game against the Leafs. He also stayed sharp by being in Friday’s skills contest.
“I’m glad I kind of got that in, because I’m not going to practice before the next game. Got the legs going and that should keep me in shape for Monday.”
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A salient point was brought to commissioner Gary Bettman’s attention during Friday’s NHL state of the union. In 2003-04, the top scorer through 82 games was Atlanta’s Ilya Kovalchuk with 41. At this year’s all-star break Matthews already has 40 and seven others have at least 30. But that dramatic change from a dead puck era was not achieved without Bettman shutting down the league for a year … Nikita Kucherov was bummed that Russia won’t be in the 4 Nations Face-Off and might still be excluded when the 2026 Olympics come around. He stated ‘best-on-best’ is hollow without Russia, but as many on social media suggested, he might take his complaint to Vladimir Putin … Kucherov, who angered many in the crowd during Friday’s skills with a lethargic effort in some events, had some fun when introduced for Saturday’s shootout, signalling for the boos to build before he came in on countryman Igor Shesterkin, only to be stopped … Hilarious video Friday of Jeremy Swayman in the Leafs dressing room trying to do the Bruin goalie bear hug he usually performs after a win with Linus Ullmark with the other eight ‘keepers as they came out for skills warmup. Winnipeg’s Connor Hellebuyck and Jake Oettinger of Dallas obliged, the latter kidding Swayman if he felt like the gesture was cheating on Ullmark. An all-business Thatcher Demko walked right past his out-stretched arms leaving a bemused Swayman to remark “there’s a lot of love in this room” … During Saturday, the league and players association announced its Hockey Fights Cancer initiative was donating $800,000 to a research program at Princess Margaret Hospital … Mitch Marner scored Toronto’s first in a home all-star game since Dmitry Yushkevich in 2000 and first by a forward since Ron Ellis in 1968 at Maple Leaf Gardens.