Hero leaves goal behind

RANDY SPORTAK -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 5:24 PM ET


 SAN JOSE -- By tonight's puck drop, all the happiness must be completely put in the past.

 By then, Calgary Flames defenceman Steve Montador must file away the exhilaration of being the overtime hero in Sunday's series-opener.

 Until that moment, though, he was able to enjoy it all.

 Montador did just that through yesterday and -- this may come as a surprise -- one of his reasons was to prepare fully for the Western Conference final Game 2 against the Sharks.

 "I thought about it for a little bit, talked to a few people, family and friends, which is nice," Montador said after yesterday's practice. "I wanted to be sure I enjoyed the moment so I could move on to today and not say I didn't give it a chance."

 Among the phone calls were his mom, Donna, who celebrated an extra special Mother's Day, and sister Lindsay, currently teaching in Korea.

 "She was asleep when it happened but checked the Internet when she woke up and called me. It was really nice to talk to her," Montador said.

 One of the great aspects of post-season hockey is the unlikely heroes who go from obscurity to the front page.

 Sunday afternoon was Montador's chance. The undrafted defenceman, who was No. 8 on the team's depth chart when the playoffs began, chose the perfect time to score his first NHL playoff goal.

 He awoke yesterday to ESPN's Chris Berman calling him 'The Matador' while rattling through the highlights from the victory.

 Then there were the photos of his game-winning goal in the papers.

 The moment is certainly something to enjoy but is also a culmination of years of drive and determination it took to get here.

 Unlike the majority of players skating in the conference finals, Montador came into the league without fanfare.

 Not even drafted after finishing four years in the OHL, the 6-ft. 210-lb. rearguard signed as a free-agent with the Flames -- one of only two teams that even expressed interest after a 14-goal, 56-point overage season with Peterborough.

 Nearly two full seasons in the minors meant a late call-up in the spring of 2002, an 11-game stint, but he didn't parlay that into a full-time gig in Calgary when the curtain opened on the 2002-03 campaign.

 His season again started in Saint John but Montador ended up skating in 50 games with the Flames.

 Curiously, he skated in even fewer NHL games this season (26) but with injuries to Toni Lydman and Denis Gauthier, Montador's importance has never been bigger than in these playoffs.

 And he's delivered.

 Montador is averaging nearly 21 minutes of ice time per game and has proven to be more than just a bit part.

 "Everybody that's played in the minors or gone up and down, gone through that tough part of hockey, can appreciate it," said Andrew Ference, who can relate in many ways.

 Montador's performance, although without the offensive output, is similar to his own post-season a couple of seasons ago with Pittsburgh. The small but skilled defenceman was summoned from the minors late in the season and went on to become a regular.

 "It's a lot of mirror images," Ference said. "That can make your whole career, a strong showing (in the playoffs). It's great to see Steve's career developing."

 A career that can be something of an inspiration for youngsters, a role Montador is thrilled to have.

 "The way I look at it, what I tell kids when I meet them is to dream big and always believe in yourself," he said. "If you trust in your abilities ... you can achieve anything you want."

 And what Montador wants most right now is a Stanley Cup title, which -- for now -- means not getting too excited about one goal.

 After all, as much as the 24-year-old Montador is ecstatic to have scored the goal that won the first game of the series, he admitted the outing wasn't his best and knows he must be better beginning with tonight's clash.

 "It's a whole new game and that's certainly my focus," he said. "I could have played a little better in my zone and that's something I'm looking to improve on. That's hockey, that's life. You make mistakes and bad things can happen in a hockey game.

 "I was just fortunate to be part of one that worked out."


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