Article reprinted courtesy of Fargo Forum and reporter Chris Murphy. Picture courtesy of Fargo Forum photographer Dave Samson.
As he opened his eyes, Concordia sophomore hockey player Brock Montgomery felt no pain. He could see out of his right eye, but there was nothing but darkness out of his left. He felt a ringing in his ears and his right arm had some blood on it.
Montgomery doesn't know who shot him. He doesn't want to know.
"I don't want to think about that every time I see or talk to them," Montgomery, 21, said. "Everybody that was there I'm still friends with. I don't need that."
He was 13 years old and crossing a ravine near Mott, N.D., while pheasant hunting with his dad, older brother and a few other people in October of 2011. This was the third straight year they had hunted together in this spot. He heard a bang and all he remembers is opening his eyes, while down on one knee. The spray of a shotgun lodged BBs in his right arm, his neck, two bounced off his chest and one went in his left eye. The one in his neck was 4 millimeters from a carotid artery, which provides blood to the brain, neck and face. The one in his eye destroyed some of his optic nerves, detached his retina and forced his lens to be removed.
He still has a scar on his neck and the BB still remains in his left eye. Doctors told him he would never play sports again and it was a miracle he was alive.
He was playing hockey four months later.
"That first hockey game was a screw you to the doctors that said I'd never play again," Montgomery said.
Nine surgeries have given Montgomery some of his sight in his left eye, but he can't see straight on, and doctors feel eventually he will be blind in that eye. Montgomery's father still can't talk about the day Brock was shot.
"It's really painful," Tom Montgomery said, while fighting back tears. "It's been a battle every day to keep his eyesight. He had to grow up so fast, and he never blamed it for anything. It's amazing what he's done."
Tom introduced skating to Brock. He used to work nights, so he'd take him to Optimist Park in Grand Forks when he was young and let him skate.
"It was just easy for him," Tom said. "I took him to the outdoor park and he jumped right on."
Brock's dad and older brother played hockey for Grand Forks Red River. He followed in their footsteps even after the hunting accident. He was named Mr. Hockey in North Dakota, leading all high school defensemen in the state with 44 points on eight goals and 36 assists in 27 games as a senior. Montgomery finished with 78 points in three seasons with Red River.
You need that peripheral vision just to see the puck down at your stick and people coming from the side," Red River coach Bill Chase said. "He was our quarterback, he was our leader. We went as he went. He never pouted, he never felt bad. He just went forward.
"He has uncanny hockey smarts. I can't explain it. His hockey vision is good or better than anybody else all the time. No matter what he does in life he'll be successful."
Brock made stops in the North American Hockey League and Manitoba Junior Hockey League, but he decided to hang up the skates last year. He decided to focus on school and went to the University of North Dakota for the spring semester. That didn't last long.
"After awhile I missed it," Brock said. "I got bored with nothing to do every day. I needed something."
Brock wants a degree in mechanical engineering, which Concordia doesn't offer. So he could've gone to North Dakota State to get an engineering degree, but that would mean no hockey.
Brock chose Concordia.
"I had friends playing here," Brock said. "I wanted to be with my friends and my best friend is (Concordia forward) Tyler Bossert, so that was a big part of it."
Concordia head coach Chris Howe told Brock that he would need him to play forward or center. Brock had always been a defenseman. He told Howe he didn't care. He just wanted to play.
"He's just a hockey player," Howe said. "His teammates love him. He seems like he's standing there at times, but he's always two or three plays ahead of everyone. I can't imagine playing hockey with one eye. It's amazing what he can do."
The Cobbers are first in the Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference, and their nine wins are the most they've had before Christmas in program history. They are 6-0-2 in their last eight. Brock has two assists and a plus-minus of plus-5, playing 5-on-5, 4-on-4 and on the penalty kill for the Cobbers.
"There's many people in life that get setbacks, whether it's physical or cancer, you just gotta keep going," Tom said. "He never complained about it. He just went over aspects of what he had to do to learn how to use it."
Brock went pheasant hunting again a year after he was shot. He left after the first shots were fired and he's never gone again.
He felt he was just beginning to hit his stride with his hockey development when he was shot. He's watched as his younger brother Dane committed to UND for hockey.
He can't help but think about the what ifs.
"I missed a year of development, and when you're 13 and 14 years old, that's a pretty key time," Brock said. "If I just had that extra year of development, would that have helped? Or how much easier would it have been to have two eyes? I don't remember ever living with two eyes. That's so long ago. I wonder the abilities I could have if I was fully functioning."
He also thinks about that BB moving 4 millimeters and hitting the carotid artery in his neck. He most likely would not be studying applied physics with plans to get a master's degree in mechanical engineering at NDSU.
"I always stop myself and think that I could've never played again or died very easily," Brock said. "I'm thankful that hopefully I can help someone else. Hopefully I'm an example for somebody to know that it's possible."