Sports

Former NHL defenceman Steve Montador honoured at funeral

By Mike Zeisberger, Toronto Sun

Funeral for NHL player Steve Montador held  on Saturday, Feb. 21, 2015, in Mississauga. Veronica Henri/QMI Agency

Funeral for NHL player Steve Montador held on Saturday, Feb. 21, 2015, in Mississauga. Veronica Henri/QMI Agency

The final words spoken at the emotional memorial for Steve Montador on Saturday were not part of a tear-inducing prayer or rah rah testimonial.

Instead, as the casket of the former NHLer was being wheeled out of the Mississauga Convention Centre in front of a huge turnout of family, friends and mourners from across the hockey world, his departure was accompanied by the audio call of perhaps his greatest on-ice moment as a pro.

With Craig Conroy and hundreds of others on hand to pay their respects, the PA played Chris Cuthbert’s call of Montador’s game-winning overtime goal for the Calgary Flames in Game 1 of the 2004 Western Conference final against the San Jose Sharks.

For a guy who always bought into the notion that you should either go big or go home, this was such a fitting way to say goodbye to him.

And make no mistake. In terms of turnout, this was big.

From former NHLers like Conroy, Marty Gelinas, Rhett Warrener, Jamie McLellan, Gary Roberts, Tie Domi, George Parros, David Clarkson, Dan Carcillo and Mathieu Schneider of the players association, to Canadian womens’ hockey icon Hayley Wickenheiser and ex-Flames GM Craig Button, they congregated on a snowy southern Ontario afternoon to spin tales about Montador, who left an impact on so many lives.

“Imagine if there was a time where there wasn’t hockey: You wouldn’t be able to have a place big enough for as many people to come to see Steve,” Conroy said, adding that you might have been able to fill the Air Canada Centre for Montador’s memorial if the NHL season wasn’t going on right now.

“If you met him one time or you played with him for 10 years, you just love him. That’s the kind of person he was,” said Conroy,

You’d be hard-pressed to find a dry eye in the place as various speakers recalled the antics and generosity of Montador, whose NHL career included stints with the Flames, Florida Panthers, Anaheim Ducks, Boston Bruins, Buffalo Sabres and Chicago Blackhawks.

But none was more striking than the story told by Dr. Charles Tator, a friend of the Montador family who is one of the world’s leading experts on concussion research.

Dr. Tator recalled being in Vancouver a number of years ago when he received an invite from Montador’s father Paul to go watch Steve play against the Canucks at Rogers Arena, an offer he quickly snapped up.

After the game - one in which Montador had scored one of his 33 career NHL goals - he came out to greet them. In the ensuing conversation, he delivered a promise to Dr. Tator.

Talking about passing away one day, Montador said: “You can have my brain.”

No one could have ever predicted that day would come so soon.

Yet, even in the tragedy that was his death, Steve Montador wanted to help. In this instance, his brain will be used in concussion research in the hopes it one day can aid in the understanding and avoidance of concussions.

“That’s the first time I heard that story and I didn’t even know it ...,” Conroy said. “That’s Steve. He wanted to do something for everybody.

“He didn’t know when it was going to be, but when it did happen he wanted to donate his brain. That just tells you what kind of person he was. Obviously it’s way too early, but if it helps someone else, that’s what he was always about ...

“That’s the kind of person he was, and that’s why he was so loved.”

For a player such as Parros who has suffered his share of concussions, Montador’s gesture did not come as a shock.

“That’s how Steve was,” Parros said. “It doesn’t surprise anybody ... if he could donate his brain to figure out how to best treat concussions and things like that, then he would certainly do it.”

Montador’s brain will go to the Canadian Sports Concussion Project, which is headed up by Tator. There, tests will be run to determine whether he suffered from Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE), a degenerative disease that can only be diagnosed postmortem and is associated with multiple concussions.

According to Conroy, it’s just another example of how Montador wanted to make a difference in the world.

“It was a touching, touching ceremony and funeral,” Conroy said. “It’s just one of those where one minute he’s here and just at 35 is way too young.”

Montador was found unconscious in his Mississauga home Sunday and later pronounced dead. The cause of death has not been determined, although foul play has been ruled out.

Saturday’s service came just two days after Montador’s first son was born, a boy who one day might be able to play the sport of hockey concussion-free thanks in part to the donation made by his dad.

Rest in peace, Steve.

mike.zeisberger@sunmedia.ca

twitter.com/zeisberger

 


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