Thursday, February 4, 2016

Leadership and inspiration are key to Sean Monahan

By Larry Wigge

The traits you want most when you are looking for in a hockey player is leadership, experience and inspiration.

Funny thing about Sean Monahan is that he has all three.

Monahan is kind of a prototype. NHL scouts usually want all the things that Monahan brings -- good size (6-2, 198 pounds), good hands and good instincts. The problem with prototypes is often, the physical attributes don't necessarily translate into a complete on-ice package. With Monahan, they do.

"It always makes me laugh -- a young coach cannot coach in the NHL because he has no experience. A young player cannot play in the NHL because he has no experience," explained Calgary coach Bob Hartley. "If you don't play him, you can't go to Walgreens and buy experience off the shelf or call your doctor for a prescription ... experience is a combination of success and failures."

Still, Monahan didn't bowl every scout over. He wasn't picke until sixth overall in the first round of the 2013 NHL Entry Draft.

But he stepped right into the NHL with the Flames and excelled. He scored 22 goals as a rookie and then followed that up with 31 goals and 31 assists in 2014-15.

It wasn't until this year's All-Star break that he felt failure in his game. A slump. He had two goals and two assists in the last 16 games since December 16.

Until ...

The third-year center had a goal and three assists for his first career four-point game to lead the Flames to a 4-1 victory over the Carolina Hurricanes February 3.

"It can get frustrating when you're getting chances and they're not going in," said Monahan. "But I try to focus on the little things and when I'm playing my best, I'm winning faceoffs, playing well in my own zone and that's when you generate the most offense."

The output gave him 15 goals and 18 assists for 49 points.

"You can always trust him," Hartley said. "He's always going to be on time, always ready, he wants to be in critical situations on the ice. Despite his young age, he's a great young role model for young kids."

Monahan pointed to one man as his inspiration.

"When it comes down to it, the guy who made me who I am today is my dad," he said. "I want to follow in his footsteps. It kind of helped me get where I am today."

John Monahan is a retired sheet metal work in construction. His mom's name is Cathy.

Mom's advice? Soak it in.

"I said, 'This doesn't happen to many people so enjoy every moment you're there, every minute you're on the ice,' " Cathy said. "Every little boy dreams to be in the NHL. Anything to do with hockey we watch it and, to actually be sitting here watching my son with a Calgary jersey on ... I had tears in my eyes. It's a crazy feeling."

Brian Burke didn't have tears rolling down his face ...

"Not flashy, just good at everything, a true 200-foot player. He's a really reliable player in his own end and he scores -- but he’s not flashy," Flames President said in talking about Monahan in hyperbole. "He's way more mature than a kid that's 20 years old. He acts like’s he's 25. And his teammates love him because he keeps his mouth shut and works."

Back in the fall of 2013, Monahan was one of the catalysts of the Flames’ rebuild. Sean is the first big center that the Flames have developed internally since the Hall of Famer Joe Nieuwendyk. As did Nieuwendyk, Monahan played a lot of lacrosse growing up, a skill set he believes translates well into hockey.

"Rolling off checks in lacrosse and hand-to-eye coordination and stuff like that, it all relates," Monahan said.

His favorite player growing up was either Joe Sakic or Steve Yzerman. He like comparing himself to Jordan Staal and Jonathan Toews. They are could be playing that strong two-way game or winning face-offs or just making sure the whole team is ready to go.

At age three, the boy wanted to play. Hockey and lacrosse sticks were always in his hand. Good luck trying to get him to use a train set or building blocks. Birthday parties were always hockey- or sports-themed; the Monahans either rented ice surfaces or organized a road hockey game with the entire team.

Summers were spent at the family cottage at Sauble Beach, two and a half hours north of their home. The last three winters have been spent travelling between Brampton and the nation's capital.

Sean Monahan had a hockey stick in his hand at an early age -- age two, to be exact. At age 10 shooting pucks on the family driveway, spending hours out there shooting buckets of pucks.

As for Monahan, the 18-year-old, he likes country music (interesting, so does everyone in Calgary for 10 days every Stampede week), and is incredibly close with his family. A razor-sharp wit, a wickedly sarcastic sense of humour, and a joker with his friends, Monahan also has a quiet side.

"If he turned left, we would say, 'Hey, he's gonna learn' and 'It's a great learning experience for him,' " Hartley agreed. "But with Mony, it seems that he's always one page ahead in the book. If he makes a mistake, you teach him -- you show him once and, gosh, it's sculpted in stone. This guy has hockey IQ to a level that I've rarely seen or I've probably never seen."

Listen to Monahan.

"Everything ramps up, obviously. The games are faster and everyone is bearing down that much more," he said. "So this opportunity right now, at my age, I think it's huge for me.

"Obviously, you dream of playing in the NHL and, as a kid, you dream of lifting the Stanley Cup. I guess it's a little bit of a reality check coming out on the ice for these types of games ... but the dream is to win the Stanley Cup."

The good part of Sean Monahan is even if he doesn't score, even if he doesn’t get his name on the scoresheet, he still gives you a chance to win games.

Said Hartley, "It's all about team. He's a special kid."

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