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CHICAGO — As the Chicago Blackhawks celebrated their third Stanley Cup in six seasons, two people who played roles in the franchise were on the minds of many players.
Long-time assistant equipment manager Clint Reif, who spent nine years with the franchise, and Steve Montador, who played two years in the organization, both died in a two-month span earlier this season.
Reif died a few days before the Blackhawks’ holiday break in December. He left behind a wife and four children, who were on the ice after Chicago’s Game 6 clincher Monday night. Following his death, decals with Reif’s initials were affixed to the player’s helmets in his honor. A fan fundraiser in February raised more than $10,000 to benefit his family.
In the days following his death, it was clear in listening to player’s talk just how much the 34-year old Reif meant to the team.
“I was only here a short time and I couldn’t believe how close I got to him, how unbelievable he was with the players,” said Brad Richards, who joined the Blackhawks last July. “He just knew everything you needed all the time. I’m sure we’re going to have a little moment of silence or have a drink with him in the locker room. He was unbelievable for these guys.”
“It’s tough. He was a big part of our team,” said Brandon Saad. “For me, being here a short couple years, get to know him well, it’s a tough night. We all know he’s supporting us though.”
Montador was found unresponsive in his home in February. Months later, tests revealed that the former NHL defenseman had CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy), the same neurodegenerative disease posthumously found in other athletes that suffered multiple concussions in contact sports. His family plans to file a lawsuit against the NHL.
Daniel Carcillo was Montador’s best friend in hockey and also struggled with substance abuse issues as well as concussions. In a video for The Players’ Tribune in April, the Blackhawks forward called for change within the NHLPA, expressing a desire for more help for former players as they move on from the game.
Months later, Carcillo said he received a positive response to the video, hearing from players in various sports and being told the Players’ Association plans to make changes going forward.
Carcillo’s friend, Missy Hollis, wore a Montador Blackhawks jersey on the ice after Game 6.
Some good came out of a terrible situation, and not a day goes by that Montador isn’t on Carcillo’s mind.
“He was around when we won it in 2013,” he said. “He had just as much fun and he deserved to be here. I’m definitely thinking of him.”
You talk to Blackhawks players, especially those who have been with the team since their 2010 Cup win, and you’ll hear them talk about the culture within the organization, how it’s one big family. When new players are brought into the fold, like Antoine Vermette and Kimmo Timonen this season, they’re immediately welcomed and feel like they fit in from day one.
When you’re around one another from September until April, sometimes June, the team becomes your second family, from teammates to the coaching staff down to the equipment managers. It’s one big team, all pulling in the same direction.
While Reif and Montador may not have been in United Center to help celebrate another Cup conquest, the two late members of the Blackhawks served as inspiration.
“We’re definitely thinking about [Clint]. We know he’s here with us,” said Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews. “When you lose close friends like Clint Reif and Steve Montador, family members of the Blackhawks, these are special moments and those people are always with you.
“You want to win for his group here and you want to win for people like them as well.”
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