Al Montoya's season debut came earlier than expected in Sunrise.
The backup goaltender was called on three minutes into the second period in Florida's 5-1 loss to New Jersey on Saturday, the Panther's first home-opening loss since 2009.
Roberto Luongo was yanked from between the pipes just after New Jersey winger Rayne Clowe scored the Devils' fifth and final goal. The Panther's starter faced 14 shots and recorded five saves in his 22:47 on the ice.
Montoya, behind a tighter Florida defense and a tamer New Jersey offense, went 10-for-10.
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"I mean, that's what you want a guy to do in a situation like that, you want him to come in and shut the door," Luongo said. "I thought he made some saves right away when he came in the game. You kind of see that as a team we kind of got a little bit of confidence off of that, and started playing our game afterward."
As the league's first-ever Cuban-American player, Montoya's first appearance at the BB&T Center was in front of a welcoming crowd.
"It's been unbelievable, coming from a hockey market like when I was in Winnipeg the last two years, to coming here — there are so many Cubans, it's a million-plus, it is such a great thing," Montoya said.
"They're such a loving community, I mean I didn't think I'd get recognized and I already have, you know, whether it's in the mall or whether it's in a coffee shop, it's been pretty cool."
Scott Clemmensen, Florida's primary backup goalie the past five seasons, returned to the Devils — an organization he was part of for seven years before heading south.
Clemmensen was shipped to the minors in March when Florida acquired Dan Ellis. This season, Ellis went to the minors after Montoya took the backup job.
"It was an up-and-down year for me with the Panthers,'' Clemmensen said. "It feels good to be back with this organization, back in the NHL. It feels good regardless of what the situation was last year. It was more about fighting the good fight. I'm here as long as I can be.''
Although Clemmensen and Devils' coach Pete DeBoer didn't always get along during their time with the Panthers, they say those days are long gone.
Late in the 2009-10 season, the two got into a profanity-laced shouting match during a practice in San Jose.
DeBoer mostly blamed that on the frustrations of another losing season in South Florida.
"There was always a mutual respect for what we did, what we stood for,'' DeBoer said. "There were no issues. We just picked up where we left off. He's a good pro. I think we fit his game.''