CORAL SPRINGS, Fla. - For Florida Panthers goaltender Samuel Montembeault, his first full year in the NHL has been all about adapting to new things.
Montembeault is used to being the starting goalie and playing almost every game. He's also used to living where there is snow on the ground during the holidays.
Not this season.
But for the laid-back 23-year-old from Bécancour, Quebec, it's all part of the process of becoming an everyday NHL goalie.
"I'm really just taking it as it comes," Montembeault said.
Never appearing too high or too low, the goalie they call "Monty" is quietly putting in a ton of work this season while watching two-time Vezina Trophy winner Sergei Bobrovsky start the majority of Florida's games.
That's just fine with Montembeault, who was told to expect as much prior to the season while speaking to the Panthers coaching staff.
According to Montembeault, this season is about improving his game, however he can.
"At the beginning, they said (Bobrovsky) was going to have, like, 55-60 starts, so that makes it about 25 games for me," Montembeault explained. "I just go one day at a time, and every time I get the opportunity, I just want to play well and take advantage."
When training camp began back in mid-September, Montembeault was told that the backup job was his to lose.
From the first camp scrimmage through a pair of stellar preseason starts, it was clear that Monty would not be heading back to the Springfield Thunderbirds, Florida's AHL affiliate.
When camp finally came to an end, Panthers head coach Joel Quenneville praised the young goaltender for not only accepting the challenge, but running with it.
"Give him credit: The opportunity was there, and he seized it," Quenneville said. "Monty came in with the chance to win the job, and he earned it the hard way, by playing through some hard spots and (in) some tough buildings, and did a good job. I think he's a strong complement to Bob, and so far, they've worked well together."
Montembeault proved last season that he could play in the NHL, allowing the Panthers brass to feel comfortable giving him a full-time NHL job this year.
After being called up twice but never seeing any action, it wasn't until an injury to James Reimer in February that the decision was made to remove Monty's training wheels.
He ended up starting six straight games and nine out of 10 over a span of less than three weeks.
Fast forward a few months, and now Montembeault is feeling a bit more comfortable calling South Florida home. He recently moved out of Coral Springs, where the Panthers' practice rink is, and into a new home in Fort Lauderdale, where many of the players live. It's also the future home of Florida's $45 million practice facility at the refurbished War Memorial, which is scheduled to open in 2021.
"Moving to a big city is pretty nice. Most of the guys live there, and everybody's close to each other. We can always go out together, so it's fun," Montembeault said. "The beach is also two minutes away. So, yeah, I'm pretty happy to be living here."
Settling into a new home in a new city while playing an unfamiliar role at the highest level is something that could weigh heavily on an athlete, especially one as young and relatively inexperienced as Montembeault.
Calm, cool and collected, Monty doesn't blink when asked about how he plans to excel as a backup goalie while managing so many changes.
"It's obviously a little tougher mentally. When you're a starting goalie, if you have a bad game, you know you're playing the next one," he explained. "When you're the backup goalie, if you have a bad game, your next game could be in a week and a half. You just need to have good habits in practice, and then once the games start, you're just going to be automatic, you're not going to think too much. That's what you need to do."
Montembeault understands that, being the backup, he has an opportunity to really tighten the screws on his game and work on the intricate details that should pay off down the line.
After every Panthers practice, Montembeault can usually be seen on the ice with goaltending coach Robb Tallas. The work they do together can vary, sometimes bringing in extra skaters to create game situations but also doing a good amount of one-on-one work, tweaking things as simple as popping a skate off the post when moving side to side or getting an explosive push off the post to the top of the goal crease.
"Not only is he a great coach, he's also a really nice guy," Monty said of Tallas. "Since I'm not playing a lot, we always have time to do extra work after practice and after morning skates. It helps me stay sharp."
Montembeault was also quick to point out how nice it is being able to watch Bobrovsky, who is famous for his intensive training and preparation, on a daily basis.
"He's a workhorse," Montembeault said. "He's one of the first to the rink every morning, and he's one of the last to leave every night. He just does so much, even in warmups before games or before practices. You can always learn from him."
A new city, new home, new role, new co-goalie, new head coach.
There are plenty of potential excuses should Montembeault stumble, but the always-smiling goalie, covered in sweat and still half-dressed in goalie gear, just shrugs.
"I'm just happy to be here."
Well, that's a good thing. He could be in South Florida for a while.
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