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Jeff Montagna: Pennridge's most iconic coach in team history

Pennridge Rams varsity ice hockey coach, Jeff Montagna
This chronicle is a biographical construct from various archived personal newspaper interviews, and personal accounts from Jeff Montagna's career as head coach of the Pennridge Rams Varsity Ice Hockey Team.

By Ross Porubski
Youth Hockey Info

About the Rams

The Pennridge Rams ice hockey program doesn't have the illustrious history many other area high school hockey teams have that put them on the map many years ago. The program itself has been in existence for almost 35 years but did take close to a decade to get it's proverbial sea legs. It wasn't until 2008 that the Rams won their first SHSHL Class AA title. They've seen their fair share of coaching changes over the years before finally finding the balance they were in search of. Over the past seven years, starting in the middle of the 17-18 season, Jeff Montagna has been at the helm. The results of his leadership speaks for itself, the Pennridge Rams are not only a team to be reckoned with, but they've been arguably one of the top three double AA competitors in the Delaware Valley for the past 4 years.

How it all got started…

Jeff grew up in Southampton, not far from William Tennent and Archbishop Wood high schools, in a family with a last name that is synonymous with Upper Bucks County Hockey for over 40 years. Brothers Mark and Matt are and have been youth/high school coaches and their father Tony has been involved with USA hockey and has been sitting president on various club hockey boards for decades. Jeff spent his youth years playing hockey, beginning at the age of four, and while he did play other sports hockey was his primary choice. He played youth club hockey exclusively for the Wintersport Royals throughout his childhood and for the Archbishop Wood Vikings in high school. Jeff played 3 years for the Vikings from sophomore through senior years.

Archbishop Wood Vikings coach, Brian Damiani had encouraging words about his senior forward in different Inquirer articles during his final season.

Dec 1, 1992, after the game against the Cherry Hill East Cougars. "Jeff is without doubt the best all-around player that I have ever coached at Wood," Vikings coach Brian Damiani said. "He isn't a real big player at 5 foot, 7 inches, and he really isn't a physical player. But he gets himself in the right position at the right time."

Thursday, Jan 28, 1993, after the game against Central Bucks East. "With the experience level on this team, we are simply overmatched by most of the teams on our schedule," said Archbishop Wood coach Brian Damiani, whose team fell to 2-11-2 "We knew going into the season that this was not going to be a banner year for Wood ice hockey, and you have to give credit to a kid like Jeff Montagna for coming out for the team and giving 100 percent every night." Montagna, the Vikings' senior captain, scored three goals in the loss to East (3-8-2). The talented puck-handler, who also plays club hockey for the Wintersport Royals in the Delaware Valley Hockey League, has no regrets about playing for the 1992-93 Vikings.

Jeff was interviewed in the same article….
"I, have some real close friends on the team, and I do go to high school with these kids," Montagna said. "Plus, the younger players on the team look up to me, and that makes me feel important. I could have concentrated on just playing club hockey this season, but I didn't want to leave the high school team high and dry." Montagna's Royals are 16-7 in the DVHL and are one of four teams battling for a playoff slot in the league. The success of the Wintersport team has tempered the losses with the Wood program.

After graduating from Wood, and completing his youth hockey with the Royals, Jeff hung up the skates and moved on to college. His choice to end his youth career was one that was actually welcomed rather than not because he was excited to take in the whole experience of being a Penn State University student.

Becoming a coach

"I knew I wanted to coach even while I was still playing. I coached for one year at Wintersport before leaving for PSU Main Campus. I came back in 97 or 98, not entirely certain of the year, and immediately went into coaching at Wildcats. I then assisted my brother until 2008 and then we flip-flopped and I became the head coach moving forward. All in all, we coached over 20+ years together up until Genesis was formed," said Montagna.

The Pennridge Rams are the only high school team Jeff has coached, and it's been exclusively Varsity. He's been with the organization for 7 years. Originally Tom Coyne was head coach when Jeff took over mid-season 2017-18, as Coyne had decided it was time to call it a career. The next year Montagna became head coach and has remained in place since.

I asked Jeff if there were any coaches he modeled himself after. "Not really, it was a lot of trial and error through the years to get where I'm at now. I did take a lot from Tom Coyne from the years we spent coaching together we played off each other well and even though our styles were different, it worked. I obviously took it from my brothers as well. Again, we all have different styles while having the same basic philosophy," Jeff said.

In Montagna's first full season, 2018-19 the Rams went 14-2-3 with the league's best record. They went on to beat CB South to claim their second-ever SHSHL title, and Montagna's first, since a little over a decade before. The program was officially relevant again.

2019 SHSHL Finals

2018-2019 Pennridge Rams

In 2021-22 the whole ball of wax had formed entirely. Jeff's team went completely undefeated with a 22-0-1 record with the league's best record and won the SHSHL Class AA Championship. Though there was a minor blemish with a tie, the team still had no losses, even in the postseason and Flyers Cup where they went 4-0 taking both the Class AA Flyers Cup and Pennsylvania State Cup titles.

Flyers Cup Replay | Pennsylvania Cup Replay

2021-2022 Pennridge Rams

The 2023-24 season got off to a quick start, but it appeared the Rams were going to be overshadowed by an equally strong program in Council Rock South. Both teams were destroying the rest of the league's opponents. In the end, the Golden Hawks, 17-1-0 won the league's best record by a hair, literally as both teams finished with 34 points, Pennridge finished with a 16-1-1 record, and their only loss was at the hands of CR South. Coincidentally, the two teams were primed to meet again in the SHSHL finals, where CR South again overcame the Ram's scoring power. The Hawks came out on top taking the 2024 SHSHL Championship. Montagna blamed himself for his team’s defeat.“I flat out cost us the game,” he said. “It’s a 2-2 game, I put the wrong combination out there. The score took the life completely out of us. “I flat out cost us the game. I feel terrible for the kids. It was my fault.” Council Rock South played a great game, they played a phenomenal game. But, I can’t do that to our team.” Montagna went back to the drawing board, not looking back, they reset the clock and moved on looking ahead as these two teams were no doubt going to meet again at some point in the Flyers Cup Tournament.

And that they did.

This time the Rams came out on top beating the Golden Hawks to win the Class AA Flyers Cup by almost the exact same score as they lost by in the SHSHL final two weeks before, 7-2. Pennridge coach Jeff Montagna said the win should eliminate any doubt about the credibility of his program. “We graduated eight really important guys two years ago,” he said. “The team had to listen, for two years, about us being a one-line hockey team. To win again tonight is a complete and total validation of this program.” Once again Pennridge was heading back to the Pennsylvania Cup finals. And again, it was the same opponent as the first time, Thomas Jefferson. They started out slow immediately getting behind 2-0. But they came storming back to win the game by a score of 7-5, making that the Ram's second state championship in 2 years.

Flyers Cup Replay | Pennsylvania Cup Replay

2023-2024 Pennridge Rams

Mindset, gameplan, philosophy

"I'm not a micromanager but at the core, we want to play fast and not overcomplicate things. It's a cliche but every team is different and I'm not married to one style. The biggest thing is being patient during a season and get players to understand the big picture of a season. It's a rough go if you are banging your head after each loss or bad game."

I asked the question, "What makes this program so strong, and effective?"

Jeff said, "Surround yourself with talent, and don't try and micromanage what they do best. That's a simplified answer but it's my philosophy. Whether it's the stars or a role player, everyone has a job and I try to give them the freedom to do that job how they think is best. Getting players to trust me and what I am selling is so important because once you have that, you have a shared goal moving forward. It doesn't always work that way but more times than not it will make a team successful."

Jeff Montagna is the winningest coach in Pennridge history, nobody else comes close, and this has been done in under ten years.

Statistical data

Coach Jeff Montagna

Overall record including regular season and postseason is 105-25-3 in 6 seasons
Regular season records
2018-19 regular season record 14-2-3
2019-20 regular season record 10-7-0
2020-21 regular season record 3-2-0 (Covid shortened season)
2021-22 overall record 22-0-1
2022-23 overall record 16-6
2024-24 overall record 22-2-2

SHSHL title record
2017-18 lost SHSHL won SHSHL title (sharing coaching duty with Tom Coyne)
2018-19 won SHSHL title
2021-22 won SHSHL title
2023-24 SHSHL Final Runner-up

Flyers Cup record
Flyers Cup 2018-19 | 2-1 Eliminated in semi-finals
Flyers Cup 2019-20 | 1-1 Eliminated in quarter-finals
Flyers Cup 2020-21 | 2-1 Eliminated in semi-finals (Covid canceled)
Flyers Cup 2021-22 | 4-0 - Champions
Flyers Cup 2022-23 | 3-1 - Runner-up
Flyers Cup 2023-24 | 4-0 - Champions

Pennsylvania Cup record

Pennsylvania Cup 2021-22 | Champion
Pennsylvania Cup 2023-24 | Champion

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