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Worldbeater Al Montoya made the big stops as the U.S. juniors won a gold medal

Before his junior year at Loyola Academy, a prep school outside
Chicago, Al Montoya considered dropping out to play goal in the
Ontario Hockey League. That idea, however, was quashed by his
mother, Irene Silva, and with good reason. In 1963, when Irene
was nine, her family fled Cuba for the U.S. with nothing more
than the clothes on their backs. They eventually settled in
Chicago, and Irene went on to become an internist. She didn't
want her son to give up his dream to play pro hockey, she just
believed that getting an education was more important. "God gave
you a brain," Irene told Alvaro. "Use it. Go to school."

As the hockey world now knows, in addition to having a
strong-willed mother, the 18-year-old Montoya also counts a quick
glove and superior puckhandling skills among his blessings. The
Michigan sophomore backstopped the U.S. to its first gold medal
at the World Junior Championships, making 27 saves in a 4-3 win
over Canada in the final on Monday in Helsinki. In helping the
Americans to a 6-0 record, Montoya had two shutouts, a 1.33
goals-against average and a sparkling .944 save percentage. Said
U.S. coach Mike Eaves, "His confidence has grown as we've gone
along here."

As a freshman last season Montoya led all NCAA goalies in games
(43) and took the Wolverines to the Frozen Four with a 30-10-3
record. He was tabbed to be the backup on the U.S. team, but he
became the starter after Maine sophomore Jimmy Howard suffered a
sprained left knee on the eve of the two-week tournament.

Montoya's athleticism, quasi-butterfly technique and ability to
move the puck remind observers of the Devils' Martin Brodeur and
the Stars' Marty Turco, but it's Montoya's background that makes
him unique. His mother's family was a fixture of upper-class
society in Cuba: His polymath grandfather was a wealthy cattle
rancher, attorney, painter and musician, and Montoya has photos
of his great-uncles fishing with Ernest Hemingway near the town
of Gibara. "They lived the good life," says Silva, "but they gave
up everything for freedom."

Now Irene, who raised Al as a single parent, is sharing in
another family dream: Between patient visits in her office on
Monday, she followed the final match on the Internet.

COLOR PHOTO: ADRIAN WYLD/CP Montoya finished the tournament 6-0 with a 1.33 goals-againstaverage.