A feature article on Six Nations’ Brandon Montour appeared in last week’s Orange Country Register, titled Ducks’ Brandon Montour – first rate in his second-best Sport, written by columnist Jeff Miller. Republished with permission.
ANAHEIM – Seven weeks ago, he wasn’t even in the picture.
But Tuesday, Brandon Montour was in the photo, the team photo, standing right there with Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry and the rest as the Ducks formally captured their 2016-17 squad.
The rookie defenseman didn’t make his NHL debut until late December and didn’t stick with the Ducks until early February.
Now, he’s averaging 17 minutes of ice time per game, has scored once in regulation and once in a shootout and, according to Coach Randy Carlyle, “has taken a huge step forward in his development.”
It has become quite a story, a whirlwind bromance between a team and a 2014 second-round draft pick many people still don’t consider to be the Ducks’ top defensive prospect.
Now, just imagine if Montour’s best sport was hockey.
Back home, in Brantford, Ontario, there are folks who, to this day, believe he was better at lacrosse.
“For me, I felt like I was about even in both,” Montour says. “But I was definitely successful in that sport.”
He won a national championship, in fact, the 2014 Minto Cup, which you’ve probably never heard of but that’s only because you’re likely not Canadian and have no appreciation for how highly lacrosse is regarded there.
That’s especially true where Montour comes from, Brantford just a few minutes from the Six Nations of the Grand River, a reservation on which Montour lived for three years before leaving to begin his hockey career.
His father, Cam, is a Native American, Montour paying tribute to his family and its roots with an elaborate tattoo on his left arm, one that includes feathers and a headdress and is still not completed.
There are places in the United States where we love to say certain sports are a religion, like football in Texas.
But, for the residents of Six Nations, lacrosse is genuinely as spiritual an experience as anything involving a higher power.
“I played the sport because I loved it,” Montour, 22, says. “But a lot of those Native kids really take lacrosse not just as a sport but as something more meaningful. It’s everything to them.
“They say they come out of the womb carrying a lacrosse stick, and it’s true. I have friends who have kids now. They’re 1 year old and carrying a lacrosse stick around.”
So consider the impact Montour and his teammates had when they won the Minto Cup as members of the Six Nations Arrows.
The Minto Cup dates to 1901, which is 14 years before the NHL officially began handing out the Stanley Cup.
Similar to Lord Stanley, there was a Lord Minto, although, because of its construction, it is, unlike the Stanley Cup, impossible to fill the Minto Cup with Jell-O shots.
“Back home, if you asked anybody who the best lacrosse players are, they’d look at the reservation first for sure,” Montour says. “Hockey is big there in the winter. But the real sport is lacrosse.”
This is the part of the world that gave the NHL Stan Jonathan, a forward who played with Boston and Pittsburgh in a career that ended in the early 1980s.
Montour is the first local to make it to the NHL since. Many of his former teammates, however, are now playing in the National Lacrosse League.
The difference between the NHL and NLL is much more significant than just a single letter. For example, the average salary in the NLL is reportedly about $20,000; Montour’s salary in the NHL: $925,000.
Carlyle says confidence has had a lot to do with Montour’s success with the Ducks, noting that “he’s not going to be overwhelmed by any situation you put him in.”
That includes being an example for those coming after him, an assignment some athletes in the past have famously refused or—even more famously—completely blown.
“Six Nations is a tight-knit community,” Montour says. “Everybody says ‘hello’ walking down the street, stuff like that. It’s good for those kids to have somebody to look up to who has reached this level.”
Now, maybe you’re thinking it’s ridiculous to suggest hockey could be only Montour’s second-best sport. The percentage of athletes who reach the pros in their first-best sport is small enough, right?
But how ridiculous is it that Montour more than once played in lacrosse tournaments against Nick Ritchie, his current Ducks teammate?
That’s right. These two NHL players who today locker within a few feet of each other at Honda Center were competitors thousands of miles and an entire sport from here.
Ritchie’s brother, Brett, a member of the Dallas Stars, also participated in a few of those tournaments, meaning these were lacrosse games that featured three future NHL players.
So, maybe nothing about this story can be considered ridiculous.
“That’s quite a big swing, obviously,” Ritchie says. “To be on the same team later on and in a different sport is pretty cool.”
It is pretty cool, the whole story, from Montour’s interesting background to his promising foreground, the unlikely scene worthy of a picture, just like the one they took Tuesday.
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