BY JUSTIN DICKIE
Garry Monahan didn’t have the typical smooth transition to National Hockey League fame from the junior ranks that has become expected of top prospects, especially considering the recent impact arrivals of guys such as Alex Ovechkin, Sidney Crosby, and Patrick Kane.
Monahan was the first overall pick in the 1963 NHL Amateur Draft. Scrap that. He was the first overall pick in the NHL.
And while nowadays the expectations are borderline ridiculous and the hype surrounding top picks overwhelming, Monahan didn’t face those same pressures.
“There was never a draft before and there was no media attention to the first draft,” said Monahan.
When he got the phone call telling him he’d been drafted by Montreal he didn’t understand what they meant and his father thought they were calling for Monahan’s brother, Pat, who was the better hockey player, according to Garry.
Monahan was just 16 years old when he was drafted out of the St. Michael’s major midget program in 1963. At the time, he had no dreams or intentions of playing professional hockey. He just didn’t think it was a possibility.
“I didn’t have a great year, I wasn’t one of the leading scorers or anything. I was just a run of the mill player.” Monahan said, noting he played on St. Michael’s with fellow future NHLers Mike Corrigan and Gerry Meehan.
In the fall of 1964, after staying home for a year to earn his Grade 12, Monahan joined the Peterborough Petes, who were owned by the Habs at the time.
After dominating offensively in his third season with Peterborough – scoring 84 points in 47 games – Monahan’s next step was a move to the Canadiens.
The most memorable moment of his NHL career was his very first shift. It came mid-way through the third period of a game during the 1967-68 season after Jean Beliveau scored to put the Habs up 4-1 over Boston.
“(Head coach) Toe (Blake) came down and said, ‘OK, Monahan, take off Beliveau.’ So I skate out to the center ice face-off circle,” Monahan explained. “First of all, my legs are like ice because I’ve been sitting there for two-and-a-half periods and I’m out of breath because I’m so nervous.
“The puck is dropped and it ends up behind our net. I’m playing center, so for some reason I’m back there and I get the puck, and I see (Eddie) Shack coming at me so I throw the puck around the boards – as you might expect the defenseman to do – and (Mickey) Redmond got it.”
A few seconds later, Monahan said he and Shack collided and both fell to the ice. Monahan said he got up slowly and as he was doing so, Redmond fired the puck back around the glass, where it bounced off and hit him in the eye.
“Essentially, it knocked me out. So, I remember dropping my gloves and I grabbed J.C. Tremblay by the shirt, he was beside me – puck’s still in play by the way – and I just sunk to my knees and – bang – out I was. I was on the ice for a total of ten seconds. An auspicious beginning.”
That one incident might have foreshadowed Monahan’s brief career in Montreal. He said he had trouble adjusting to a different culture, which wasn’t helped by a lack of communication from the Canadiens’ players and staff.
Monahan was a shy kid and worried he wouldn’t fit in with all the Habs superstars. On his first travel experience with the team he wandered through the train car and found a bed to lie in.
“Next thing I know, Beliveau opens the curtains and says ‘Hey kid, what are you doing in my bed? This is lower ‘4’, get out of my bed,’ ” Monahan said. “And he did it in a nice way, this is no knock against Beliveau. I didn’t realize, of course, that everybody slept in a bed with their number on it.”
Monahan spent two seasons with the Canadiens, but played in just 14 games, while spending most of his time with the minor league affiliate, the Houston Apollos.
After splitting a season playing for Detroit and Los Angeles, Monahan established himself in Toronto. Playing the role of black ace or fourth-liner for his first three seasons, he helped make up a great checking line with Dave Keon and Billy MacMillan.
“For the first time I really felt like a solid member of the team,” Monahan said.
But after four full seasons in Toronto, Monahan was shipped to Vancouver where he would continue to thrive in a checking role. He also put together his best offensive output, posting an 18-goal, 44-point campaign in 1976-77.
Monahan returned for a brief stint in Toronto before getting adventurous with a move to Japan, where he would play professionally for the Seibu Bears.
In three years in Japan, he led Seibu to one league championship and once finished second in league scoring behind Russian forward Vladimir Shadrin.
“I felt more pressure in Japan than I felt in the NHL because you had to be the Gretzky of the team,” said Monahan. “Whereas here, if you lost 3-2 you could always say, ‘Well, I checked my man to death and he never scored’ or ‘It was Keon’s fault’ or something.”
When Monahan retired from hockey, he moved to Vancouver. Since then he has worked as a stockbroker, broadcaster and since 1991, real estate agent.
“After having had what I would call an average career, you could be sort of bitter that you didn’t do better for one reason or another… but I’m not like that. I think I had a good career.” Monahan said.
“I was a solid member of the second or third line, killed all the penalties and the last minute of every period I’d be out there trying to protect the lead. I was happy to be a solid member of the team and to be counted on in the role that I was given.”
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