Max Montes got his start in hockey in a unique way.
"My dad is from Venezuela and he moved to Wisconsin with my mom and my dad saw a hockey game and he said, 'Oh my gosh, I want my kids to play this game," said Montes, who lives in Hartland, Wis., a Milwaukee suburb. "Me and my older brother (Franklin) were the first in our family to start playing hockey.
"It's kind of a crazy story."
Despite an unusual time for college recruiting, Montes decided where he wants to play college hockey. Montes, who turns 17 in September, has verbally committed to play for St. Cloud State. He is the second 16-year-old forward from Wisconsin to verbally commit to the Huskies in seven days. Jonah Aergerter committed to St. Cloud State on Aug. 12.
The Huskies won the recruiting battle for Montes over Denver, Arizona State, Western Michigan and Michigan Tech. He played last season for the Milwaukee Jr. Admirals 16-and-under AAA team. Montes had 56 goals, 62 assists, 118 points, 71 penalty minutes and was a plus-54 in 54 games for Milwaukee last season.
He had 26 more assists, nine more goals and 44 more points than anyone else on his team.
"He's a really good skater, super deceptive in his skating ability, good speed," said Matt Murray, a former University of Wisconsin forward who coached the 16U team and is the director of hockey for the Jr. Admirals. "He has one of the highest hockey IQs I've ever been around. He just does things and gets to spaces that is very, very difficult to teach a kid.
"He's got a good shot. He's a good playmaker and makes his linemates better. He draws a lot of attention and is able to make plays from creating openings. Very elusive and good puck skills, very good in tight areas."
Montes is a 2019 draft pick (6th round, 81st overall, Futures Draft) of the Dubuque Fighting Saints of the United States Hockey League and was taken in the 13th round of the Ontario Hockey League's draft by the London Knights. He plans on playing this season for the Fighting Saints, a team that he played one game for last season.
"The things that are his strengths are his ability to make plays anywhere on the ice and operate with limited time and space and be a threat," said Oliver David, the Fighting Saints head coach who has coached junior hockey since 2009. "He could probably play any type of forward and be able to contribute what's needed, rather than being a one-dimensional guy, staying within himself and saying, 'I'm a shooter,' so he shoots.
"From our experience with him in the last year and, potentially in the next several years with him, he's been very coachable," he said of the 5-foot-8, 155-pound Montes. "Something that is exciting with a player that can be such a potential difference maker is that he wants to learn. He has that want to learn and he wants to win."
Montes will be a junior in high school this fall. Under new NCAA recruiting rules, college coaches cannot talk to prospective players until January of their sophomore seasons. Players cannot make verbal commitments to college programs until Aug. 1 before their junior seasons.
Montes said that assistant coach Nick Oliver made the first recruiting contact with him in January and it sounds like played a role in his picking St. Cloud State.
"I talked to Nick Oliver a lot," he said. "I felt like that relationship kept going up and up and I feel like he's a really, really good coach and can really help me when I go to St. Cloud. He's just amazing."
Montes made an unofficial campus visit in February as the recruiting process was gaining steam for him. He continued to stay in contact with the St. Cloud State coaching staff and made his decision on Aug. 19.
"I felt like I kind of knew the school I wanted to go to and I was talking to my coach (Murray) and he said, 'If you know the school you want to go to, why wait another month?'" he said. "The other part of it was I didn't really want to be talking to schools during the season because, for me, it's a little stressful. I wanted to get it done before I went to Dubuque.
"I don't want to have to deal with calls on the phone and it's hard for me to communicate with my parents because they won't be right next to me."
Montes has one connection already playing for St. Cloud State. Huskies goalie Joey Lamoreaux, who is from Shorewood, Wis., is a former Milwaukee Jr. Admiral and the two have worked out together.
"I had one or two phone calls with him where I was asking him some questions and he was telling me all about the school and his experiences there," Montes said of the sophomore-to-be. "He was telling me good things and kind of persuaded me a little bit."
David did not sound surprised that the schools that recruiting Montes were after him.
"Traditionally big (hockey) schools and traditionally successful schools did seek him out and it's not surprising at all," David said. "He's been emerging on the college scene and, probably already the NHL scene, already for a solid year now."
Montes' older brother, Franklin, is an 18-year-old forward who plans to play junior hockey this season for the Austin Bruins of the North American Hockey league.
Reviews on the new recruiting age rule
Murray said that he likes the new recruiting rules that the NCAA has implemented and that he thinks it is going to help players in the long run.
"With the new rules, it allowed a lot of teams to get out and watch and it was not like in the past where the first team that saw him and offered him and you don't know if anyone else is interested," Murray said. "This is true recruiting the way it is supposed to be done. He can weigh all the options and listen to all the coaches.
"I think it's going to help kids that are going to be more apt to not have de-commits along the way and they get to do their research."
Montes seemed to echo those remarks.
"They talked to me on Jan. 1, then I went up there on an unofficial visit in February and I really liked it when I went up there," he said. "I talked to them for six months and then they offered me on Aug. 1 and I weighed my other options and when I committed on Aug. 19, I knew that St. Cloud was the option for me.
"The facility and how it is close to home and represents home for me. It's in the Midwest and a smaller town like I'm from and I could see myself living there. Also, the coaches were really nice and I felt a really good relationship with the coaches and that was a big part of it."