Six Nations ‘rooting’ for Brandon Montour in NHL playoffs

·5 min read

Brandon Montour’s standout play in the National Hockey League playoffs — including a dramatic game-tying goal that helped his Florida Panthers stave off elimination in Round 1 — has caught the attention of the hockey world and made him the talk of his home community of Six Nations of the Grand River.

“Since he’s been doing so well, that’s all you hear around here,” said Florence General in between clearing tables at Village Cafe in Ohsweken, just down the road from Montour’s parents’ house on the First Nation southwest of Hamilton.

General’s 11-year-old son, Calder, is a defenceman like Montour and took an interest in the NHL this year because someone from Six Nations was starring in the playoffs.

“I told him, you should watch (Montour) and you can learn,” General said.

Now Calder is taking shots on goal from the blue line just like Montour, a workhorse who, heading into the Eastern Conference final, was averaging 26 minutes of ice time during the playoffs and was in the top five in scoring among defencemen.

“Those numbers are huge,” said Randy Staats, a professional lacrosse player with the Halifax Thunderbirds of the National Lacrosse League, who was having breakfast at the diner on Fourth Line with his young daughter, Paedyn.

Staats remembers Montour as a “competitor” who played consistent defence and “pushed the offensive tempo” when the two were junior lacrosse teammates with the Six Nations Arrows.

“He’s always been pretty crafty at lacrosse, and obviously hockey,” Staats said. “And look what he’s doing now. Eastern Conference finals — it’s pretty crazy. To see somebody succeed at that level is pretty cool, especially him being from here.”

Having someone from Six Nations shine on hockey’s biggest stage is an inspiration for young hockey players on the reserve, said Josh Isaacs, vice-president of the Six Nations Minor Hockey Association.

“If they see Brandon Montour in the NHL, they can look at themselves and say, you know what, that’s possible,” Isaacs said.

Montour jerseys are a common sight around Six Nations, and Isaacs said some young players try to emulate the 29-year-old defenceman, who spent his high school years living in Ohsweken.

Loyalties on Six Nations were tested when Montour’s Panthers squared off against the Toronto Maple Leafs in the second round of the playoffs, with Florida dispatching the local favourites in five games.

“There’s a lot of Toronto fans down here, but at the same time, there’s a lot of fans of Montour as well,” Isaacs said.

With the Leafs eliminated, Isaacs said everyone is pulling for the Panthers to defeat the Carolina Hurricanes in the semifinals. That best-of-seven series started on Thursday.

Montour led all skaters in ice time during Thursday’s epic four-overtime Eastern Conference final opener, skating 57:56 in the Panthers victory. It ranks among the top-10 most minutes played in a single game in NHL history.

“Montour’s town is rooting for him,” Isaacs said. “He’s really found his groove, and it’s nice to see him succeeding the way he is. Hopefully he keeps continuing that and gets to play for a Stanley Cup.”

Driven to succeed

Montour’s success comes as no surprise to his aunt and godmother, Jaime Lynne Montour, who said her naturally athletic nephew “was meant to be where he is.”

“He’s got that gift. He always did,” she said.

“He wanted to be in the NHL ever since he was little. Ever since he had his first hockey stick.”

Montour fuelled his goal with self-discipline and a drive to be his best.

“He continues to excel and push himself to higher levels of potential in his passion,” his aunt said.

“He has no time for distractions. He’s very focused on what he wants. And that determination really does show in where he’s at.”

Jaime Lynne Montour gave credit to Brandon’s parents, Cam and Tammy, for making sacrifices for their son.

“They worked hard so (Brandon) could have the opportunities that he had,” she said.

“It wasn’t easy. Brandon didn’t make it to the OHL. He tried out numerous times, but he was small for his age.”

A growth spurt was all Montour needed to maximize his sizeable talents, said Dave MacKay, Montour’s high school hockey coach and gym teacher at Assumption College in Brantford.

“Even in Grade 9, he could skate like the wind. Just a beautiful skater,” MacKay said. “Very offensively gifted in terms of what he could do with the puck.”

MacKay remembers Montour as being even better at lacrosse than hockey, with good instincts and the ability to control the play.

“We call it great hands. He had great hands to make things happen,” MacKay said.

“He definitely stood out. He was a little bit small, but we always knew that he had a lot of potential and talent. By the time he got to Grade 11 and 12, everything was coming together for him.”

Along with being a gifted player, MacKay said Montour was a joy to coach.

“He was very confident, but a nice kid. Very humble,” MacKay said. “Outgoing, personable, very polite. Just a great guy.”

Montour played junior hockey with the Brantford Golden Eagles and Caledonia Corvairs before accepting an offer from the Waterloo Black Hawks in the United States Hockey League.

“He went there and flourished and went to (the University of Massachusetts Amherst) and flourished, and then got drafted” as the 55th-overall pick by the Anaheim Ducks in 2014, MacKay said.

The two keep in touch, and MacKay and another Assumption teacher went to see Montour play in Buffalo and met him after the game. MacKay also invited Montour to speak at an athletics banquet at Assumption, which was “very motivating” for the student athletes, especially the school’s sizeable Six Nations contingent.

“You never know what Grade 9 brings compared to Grade 12,” MacKay said. “So continue to develop the skills and work hard.”

To see her nephew — who used to play hockey video games with her kids while babysitting — now playing in NHL arenas fills Jaime Lynne Montour with “such a pride.”

She hopes Montour’s example will motivate kids from Six Nations to reject stereotypes and “break barriers.”

“He’ll impact and inspire Indigenous youth for years, generations,” she said.

J.P. Antonacci, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Hamilton Spectator