Up until he moved back to the Toronto area recently, former NHL player Steve Montador was living in Los Angeles, renting a house from George Parros. Once a month or so, Montador – who was hoping to land a post-career job in hockey – would telephone Los Angeles Kings coach Darryl Sutter to chat or would drive out to the team's practice facility in El Segundo to meet for coffee."He was trying to get his life in order and figure out what he was going to do next," said Sutter, in a telephone interview Sunday, soon after the news of Montador's death, at the age of 35, spread around the NHL. "He was still dealing with some concussion issues and his own problems. He was on his own, and lonely I think.
"Our sport, it's such a small group. When guys have issues and they're not in that group anymore, it's like they don't have a place to go. It threw me for such a loop today, because I really thought he was going to find his way out of it.
"I just feel really bad about what happened. He was a good boy."
Montador, who played 571 NHL games and was an integral part of the Flames team that advanced to the 2004 Stanley Cup final, was found dead inside his Mississauga home Sunday morning, according to Peel Regional Police. Cause of death is unknown, pending an autopsy, but police do not suspect foul play.
During a career that took him from Calgary to Florida, Anaheim, Boston, Buffalo and Chicago, Montador was a wildly popular teammate, a player who started off modestly – signing an amateur American Hockey League tryout with the Flames in the 1999-2000 season once his junior career in Peterborough ended. The Flames liked him enough to sign him to an NHL contract in September of 2000 and he won an AHL championship with their affiliate in Saint John that same year.
Sutter stayed in touch with Montador over the years and said that while in L.A., Montador sought out some holistic approaches to treating his lingering concussion issues.
Montador played 11 games for Zagreb in Russia's Kontinental Hockey League in 2013-14. His NHL career ended two years previously, largely because of concussion problems; and in a 2013 interview with CSN Chicago, he acknowledged that he'd been dealing with depression issues as he adjusted to life after the NHL.
Red-eyed and fighting back tears, Martin Gelinas – now a Flames assistant coach – described Montador as like a member of his family after Montador lived with him for six months during their time together playing with the Florida Panthers.
"Obviously, he had some demons that he had to deal with, but what I remember about Steve was, he was a caring guy – for his teammates and for family members and friends," Gelinas said. "It's a very sad day."
The news of Montador's death brought back shuddering memories of other NHL players who've died prematurely over the past several years, including Derek Boogaard, Rick Rypien and Wade Belak.
Gelinas said he was "like everybody else – shocked [by the news of Montador's death]. Everybody goes through dips and so on. Everybody deals with things differently. At the end of the day, I'm not too sure about the details of what happened. I just want to leave it as – he was a friend, a family member and someone I cared about."
Montador was Calgary's extra defenceman going into the 2004 playoffs, but injuries to two regulars, Toni Lydman and Denis Gauthier, paved the way for him to become a regular. Montador was paired with Mike Commodore and the rhyming nature of their names – plus the fact that Commodore grew his hair out into a bright red afro – gave them a bit of a cult following.
"I played the heck out of him," Sutter said. "We really had nobody left. I promised him after the run, if it looks like you're going to be the sixth or seventh guy here, I'll find you a place to play. I traded him to Florida and he ended up signing that big contract in Anaheim after that."
Goaltender Jamie McLennan, who played with Montador in both Calgary and Florida, described him as "the type of guy who wanted to be a difference maker" – and knew he could because of his platform.
"The one thing I will remember about Monty forever is his sense of humour. He was hilarious. We had a lot of running jokes. We loved the movie Kingpin, so out of nowhere, he'd text me with a line from Kingpin. You don't hear from him for a while and then he surfaces and says, 'what's up? I saw you on TV.'
"There'll be a million stories that come out about him, but the common denominator will always be, 'that's Monty' because was such a unique individual – and when he got into things, he got into them a big way. So if he got interesting in working out, he became a fitness freak. You'd talk to him and ask 'what's new?' and you couldn't wait to hear the answer because there was always something new with Monty."
In 2011, Montador went to Tanzania along with former Flames teammate Andrew Ference on behalf of Right To Play, the organization that seeks to use sport and play as a chance to enhance child development in underprivileged areas around the world. Montador stepped in at the 11th hour for Georges Laraque, according to Ference.
"It ended up, he was perfect," Ference said in a September interview. "He's a very conscientious guy himself; he was up for the adventure; and he's a real personable guy, so hanging with the kids there and going to the different projects, seeing the work Right To Play was doing there, we had a really impactful trip. It was amazing … a powerful trip for both of us."
Another part of Montador's enduring appeal was his underdog status. He, like that 2003-04 Calgary team, wasn't particularly highly rated by the hockey establishment.
"This is what you liked about the guy," Gelinas explained. "He's a guy that came from nowhere and worked for everything he got and made a name for himself. His teammates, everybody loved him – everybody you talked to, no one's got a bad thing to say about Steve. He was a fun guy to be around.
"Off ice, he was just a quality guy that you wanted to be friends with."