- Greg Wyshynski is ESPN’s senior NHL writer.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Jim Montgomery of the Boston Bruins won the Jack Adams Award on Monday night as the NHL’s coach of the year. But while celebrating the highest individual honor of his career, he thought it was important to remember the lowest point of his life.
“Three and a half years ago, the Dallas Stars terminated my contract because of my struggles with alcohol,” he said during an emotional speech at the NHL Awards. “I had to change my actions and behaviors. That has led to the success I live daily now.
“For those who struggle out there, you can change. You can affect change within yourself. It doesn’t happen alone. You need a team. You need a community. I’m lucky.”
The Stars fired Montgomery in December 2019 for what general manager Jim Nill called “a material act of unprofessionalism contrary to the values and standards” held by organization. In January 2020, Montgomery called the firing “a wake-up call” and revealed that he had admitted himself into an inpatient residential program for alcohol abuse.
That September, the St. Louis Blues hired him as an assistant coach, his first step in an NHL comeback.
“There are people I forgot to thank when I was up there because I got nervous,” he said after the awards show. “Not used to talking like that. Comfortable in a locker room. Not so much on a big stage like that. But Blues GM Doug Armstrong, owner Tom Stillman and coach Craig Berube gave me a second chance.”
The Bruins hired him last summer to replace Bruce Cassidy. Boston went on to set NHL regular-season records for wins (65) and points (135), leading to Montgomery’s coach of the year win.
He said the biggest lesson from his recovery has been “an attitude of gratitude” each day.
“I wake up every day and write down what I’m grateful for, and that just sets my head straight and it creates happiness from within and then I’m able to be able to spread that happiness to others,” he said.
Bruins goalie Linus Ullmark, who won the Vezina Trophy on Monday as the NHL’s top goaltender, said Montgomery’s openness about his struggles helped him connect better with players.
“For me, it hits home a little bit more because I’ve had [addiction] in my family, as well,” Ullmark said. “So for him to always be that open about it just shows that he lets everything out there. He’s very open, which makes you trust him. For me to trust him and he can trust us, you build that relationship, you build that connection towards each other that is so important when it comes to the team environment.”
Montgomery said it’s important not to shy away from showing vulnerability.
“I have found being vulnerable creates trust more than anything,” he said. “And being vulnerable is actually a strength. Everybody has things that they battle in life.”
During his speech, Montgomery gave shoutouts to his support system, including: his 91-year-old mother Dorothy, who was watching on television from Montreal; his three sisters and brother; his children J.P., Colin, Ava and Olivia; and his wife, Emily, whom he said “stuck around this guy through the ups and downs” of his life.
“People need support,” he said. “It’s important to know that people aren’t alone. And I’m very lucky that I’m not alone.”
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