The Big Cubano hopes to spark Panthers on and off the ice
|By Harvey Fialkov, Sun Sentinel|
|McClatchy-Tribune Information Services|
Huh? That may sound a tad incongruous and illegal, given the BB&T Center's anti-smoking regulations and the lack of interest in hockey among
However, that all could change now that the
The hope from the
"This is a very cool experience, not only on a hockey level, but a bigger level than that," Montoya said via phone from
Montoya was born in
Half of the extended family migrated to Miami Beach, which is where the Montoyas would vacation sometimes twice a year for huge family "fiestas." So playing for the
"The house was always filled with Cuban family members, and my first language growing up was Spanish," Montoya said. "I left home at an early age of 15, but the best part was always coming home for the traditions."
"They left it all behind and decided the best thing for them was to start a new life and get out of
Montoya draws most of his inspiration, particularly his work ethic, from his mother, an internist in
"She sacrificed everything in her life to give to her sons so we could have our lives," Montoya said. "When I'm standing on the ice doing what I love, I don't forget to remember the struggles that they've gone through."
That's why one of Montoya's more colorful goalie masks contains the names of his mother, grandparents, three brothers, wife Annie and their 19-month-old daughter, Camila, along with a
Montoya, who lived across the street from the
"I always wanted to do what he was doing," Montoya said. "So when I was 3, my aunt took me to a rink, and the rest is history."
Walsh runs a defense company in
"I led the way, but he was the special kind of athlete across the board," said Walsh, 33, who at 6-foot-6, 250 played offensive line for the
Five years after he was drafted by the
"There was a snowstorm, and about 8,000 people showed up for the game," laughed Montoya. "It was very cool, the fact I have the score sheet, a shutout and
Montoya also made history when he split the net with
"They announced my name and it got pretty loud, so it was a very cool moment," said the 6-foot-2, 203-pound Montoya.
Montoya is getting a second chance of sorts, as he was confident he would be drafted by the
"Now I get the chance later in my career where I feel I'm more developed, more mature and feel like I'm even more ready to take on this challenge," said Montoya, whose record is 37-26-13 with a 2.63 goals-against average, but was 13-8-3 with a stellar 2.30 GAA last season for the 22nd-ranked Jets.
Although Montoya is thrilled to be mentored by Luongo and understands his role, that doesn't mean he doesn't aspire to be the starter.
"That's the ultimate goal. I'd be lying to you if it wasn't," he said. "At the same time I understand my position. I look forward working with Roberto. ... It's only a bonus for me coming to this team to work with him."
Montoya knows that his heritage isn't enough to create fan interest. After all, the Marlins didn't fare too well on the field or in the seats when they signed Cuban first baseman
"First and foremost, if you put a winning team on the ice you're going to get fans, so I think the start of it would be a good hockey team and give the people a reason to come into the arena when there's a ton of things going on all the time," said Montoya, a semi-regular at
"Add to that, me being able to go into the Cuban community, bringing in people would just be a bonus."
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