(Veteran sports writer Steve MacFarlane stops by FN again and shares his look at rookie Sean Monahan)
The Calgary Flames preseason schedule was freshly in the books, and long after the post-game player availability in the dressing room, head coach Bob Hartley headed back toward his office following his media scrum down the hall. He spotted Sean Monahan talking to a camera crew, which had just begun questioning the 18-year-old after the rookie patiently spoke at length with a pair of reporters who waited for the trainers to finish working on the slightly banged-up centre.
“Pull him outta there,” Hartley barked at one of the media relations staff. “It’s been an hour.”
If Monahan minded, he sure didn’t show it. “It’s something I’m getting used to,” he had just finished saying. “It’s all fun. It’s a good time."
Nothing seems to faze the first-round pick. It never has.
Cut from the cloth of calm
From the first taste of rejection in peewee hockey, to last year’s snub from Team Canada at world junior selection camp, Monahan just keeps moving forward. It’s that display of maturity, work ethic, determination and natural skill that ultimately led to him being selected sixth overall by the Flames at last spring’s draft. It’s also what has earned him at least a look in the regular season before the NHL club decides whether or not to send the major junior captain back to the OHL’s Ottawa 67s.
He’ll play as many as nine games before that moment of clarity comes, although Flames GM Jay Feaster suggested Monahan may sit for learning opportunities in between his appearances on the ice, which could ultimately prolong his stay but not guarantee a full season in the big league.
So far, through development camp, the rookie tournament, and training camp, Monahan seems to have gotten stronger on the ice and more comfortable off it. He compares it to his first experience in the junior ranks.
“My first step like that was going into my first OHL camp. I didn’t know what to expect there and I learned quickly,” Monahan says. “I guess I got better as the season went on. That’s something I’m trying to do here.”
His future as a Flame – at least in the short term – depends on that. With president of hockey ops Brian Burke’s track record of sending guys back to junior more often than not, Monahan will have to show he can earn enough minutes in the NHL to make it work keeping him around. Given Monahan’s history of finding ways to grow, you might want to bet on it.
From shy kid to captain in the nation’s capital
When he was just starting out on the ice as a three-year-old in the suburbs of Toronto, the ultra-shy Monahan would find ways to trick his dad John into sticking around on the bench or coach. By the time he was six, he was already a feisty competitor.
Raised by a hockey family – with an uncle who played pro in Italy, a grandfather who suited up with the Pittsburgh Hornets in the AHL, and cousin who turned pro in Germany – Monahan came by his passion for the game naturally.
“I just like to work hard. That’s something I’ve done as a player ever since I was a little kid. It’s just kind of in my family’s genes,” Monahan says. “My dad and my grandpa would always be tough on me even when I was six years old."
They wanted him to focus on puck possession, winning faceoffs so he didn’t have to chase pucks around. Not your typical coaching advice for a toddler, but something that helped him think the game the right way from a young age.
“Starting at six, it’s really carried with me, that competitive nature.”
By the time he was 16, he was ready for a full-time role in the OHL, posting 20 goals and 47 points in 65 games as a rookie with the 67s. He topped 30 goals and 78 points in 63 games the following season and then nearly identical stats in his draft year as captain of a struggling team that lost key personnel. Even now as the 67s wait to see if Monahan returns, the "C" on his sweater remains.
Things weren’t always easy, however, even though his natural ability always seemed to shine through in the clutch, whether he was playing lacrosse, hockey, or pickup basketball.
Rejection only motivates him more
“Obviously you want to prove people wrong for making decisions, but at the end of the day, you’ve just got to do what you do and whatever comes of that, it’s going to show the best of you,” Monahan says when asked about being cut by the North York Rangers of the OJHL.
He found another team in the league to captain, leading the Mississauga Rebels to the first OHL Cup tournament title for a wildcard team with 13 points in seven games. He was named MVP of the tourney. Monahan will look to make up for missing out on the 2013 world juniors experience this holiday season as well after being cut from last year’s camp following a 10-game suspension that saw him enter selection camp in less than ideal physical condition.
“I wasn’t in a game for a while and that was tough for me. I hopped into that high pace again,” Monahan reflects. “I learned a lot. That tournament’s quick and they’re looking for the most ready players. Unfortunately I wasn’t part of that, but I think I know what to expect coming into this next camp.”
That’s assuming the Flames let him go if he’s still on the NHL roster.