Friday, September 2, 2011

Getting to know your new Blackhawks: Steve Montador

For many Blackhawks fans, it might have come as a bit of surprise when the team traded a draft pick for Steve Montador's rights, and then consequently signed him right before free agency began.

But those who've watched him play before will recognize that Montador brings exactly what the Hawks need on the blue line: a solid, dependable, gritty, puck-blocking, penalty-killing defenseman. His stay-at-home style is a good balance to the puck-moving skills of players like Duncan Keith and Nick Leddy; and while he's not as big as Brent Seabrook, you might forget that while watching Montador's physical style. Houses of the Hockey once called him "the league's best anonymous defenceman".

Let's talk stats briefly: last season, Montador played for the Sabres, and he played his best year to date. He averaged 1.41 points per 60 minutes of play at even strength (Keith got just 0.84 last season after posting 1.61 in 2009-10); he had a career year with 5 goals and 21 assists, and had the best +/- rating on his team last year (+16). He averaged 19:43/game, which means he can eat up a lot of minutes like Campball has done for the Hawks, and he also put up his share of hits (86) and blocks (138). There's a lot to like in what he'll be bringing to his new team.

In addition to the skills he has on the ice, Montador is known for being a really nice guy off the ice, too. Last month at the Blackhawks Convention, he took it all in with a ready smile, friendly attitude, and quick wit -- hmm, will he be a new co-conspirator for team prankster, Patrick Sharp?  He's known as a "character player", a leader in the locker room, and should be a very good addition to the Blackhawks.

What you might not know about Montador is that he's one of the Athlete Ambassadors for Right to Play International, a group dedicated to the mission of "improving the lives of children in some of the most disadvantaged areas of the world by using the power of sport and play for development, health and peace." (see videos on their site)

Montador has been involved with Right To Play since 2007; Ashton Lawrence calls him "one of Right To Play's most active Athlete Ambassadors". Montador and his friend and former Calgary Flames teammate Andrew Ference traveled to Tanzania in July 2007 with the organization; a one-hour documentary about this trip premiered on the NHL Network (although it unfortunately doesn't seem to be archived on the NHL's website currently).

photo courtesy of Right To Play
In early August of this year, Montador traveled with Right To Play a little closer to home, to the reserve of Wapekeka First Nation, located about 375 miles due north of Thunder Bay. The town is isolated - no roads connect it, but a small airstrip allows for regular flights. Wapakeka has 363 year-round residents, and the school is so limited that if a child wishes to receive secondary school (or beyond) education, they must leave the town.

From the Right to Play Canada

On August 10th, 2011, Wapekeka First Nation was host to Right To Play Athlete Ambassador and Chicago Blackhawks defenseman Steve Montador and representatives from the NHLPA Goals and Dreams Foundation.
Montador and the team of NHLPA staff were visiting the community to play with the children, interact with the community and see first-hand the impact Right To Play is having through their programs. The visit was also used to announce the generous donation of 50 sets of hockey equipment by the NHLPA to Right To Play’s Hockey for Development Program, which will all be given to children and youth in Wapekeka First Nation. Priority will be placed on girls, and children without or with unsuitable equipment.
photo courtesy of Right To Play
This will drastically increase the ability of children and youth to play hockey in Wapekeka, as not having the appropriate equipment is one of the biggest barriers. The entire community is thrilled about the chance now for children to play hockey safely, in full equipment!

Steve Montador, an Athlete Ambassador since 2007, has long been passionate about Right To Play programs, and is enthusiastic about the PLAY Program carried out in First Nation communities. “With incredible support from the NHLPA, I believe we can make a difference through hockey – building life-skills and increasing hope, while also providing the necessary equipment these children and youth might not otherwise receive.”

photo courtesy of Right To Play

photo courtesy of Right To Play

Solid defenseman and all-around nice guy - what's not to like, Blackhawks fans? In just two weeks, you'll get your first up-close look at Montador on the ice at the United Center during the Blackhawks Training Camp Festival. You can also find Steve Montador on Twitter at @SteveMontador.

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