Johnson: Monahan has earned every bit of this NHL christening moment
Flames rookie has impressed head coach Bob Hartley — ‘I’d say it was a pretty easy decision (to keep him).’
A christening of no small note was held Wednesday across the pond.
Only hours later, the Calgary Flames were conducting their own rite-of-passage ceremony, with slightly less pomp and circumstance than the one staged at the Chapel Royal in St James’s Palace, London, to be sure.
But Bob Hartley has hopes, real hopes, that Prince Sean Monahan can grow up to be a king of his realm, too. Genuine hockey royalty.
“When I was his age,” mused Hartley, “I was working at PPG, the factory in my hometown. I got married at 19, bought my first house and was playing Jr. B hockey.
“I remember the house cost $49,500 and the mortgage was probably $44,000.
“So, yeah, when you think about it, where he is at his age, what he’s done, it’s pretty amazing.”
It’s official: Sean stays.
Gave the powers-that-be no choice in the matter, really, the silly, stubborn cuss. Off what we’ve seen over the past weeks, Sean Monahan as much belongs back in junior as Andrea Bocelli belongs in the chorus.
Monahan will indeed be in the Flames’ lineup on Thursday night at American Airlines Center in Dallas, marking his 10th NHL start, and thereby tying him to the big club, to the bright lights, charter flights and posh hotels, from here on in.
Conventional wisdom held that someone his age probably would’ve been better off back in Ottawa with the 67’s, maybe traded to a contending OHL outfit somewhere down the highway, setting the World Juniors in Malmo, Sweden, alight, possibly a long Memorial Cup run, piling up the confidence along with the points. More ready to cope with the grind of the pro game next fall.
Troublesome thing is, he’s proven fully able of coping now. Nine points, including six goals, in as many NHL starts left the Flames simply no viable option but to keep him.
The kid absolutely nailed his audition. So emphatically that Simon Cowell would’ve stood and applauded.
Had Calgary GM Jay Feaster shipped Monahan back east, ticket-purchasing partisans faced with a rebuild and a season that despite a surprisingly positive start still hangs precariously in the balance, might’ve marched down Olympic way brandishing torches and pitchforks in angry protest.
Bob Hartley might’ve had to restrain himself from grabbing a hunk of lit tree trunk and joining the mob.
“I’ve never,” stressed the boss, as the Flames finished practice Wednesday at Jobing.com Arena in Glendale, Ariz., “coached a guy his age who has so much poise, so much maturity. The way he handles himself on the ice and with the other players. Alex Tanguay, at 20, in Colorado, I guess was close. But Sean’s just turned 19.
“Hey, I’ve been doing this a long time. I rarely get too excited about a rookie in camp. Some of them start strong, but they usually fade away, kind of end up cutting themselves. They come to a point where they hit a certain wall and can’t keep up with the pace of the game. So you don’t get your hopes up too high.
“But with Sean there was never a moment where you thought ‘He’s out of his depth. He can’t handle it.’ A moment you felt like he could’t skate or couldn’t think at the same speed as the veteran players. Never.
“Against Vancouver, you know, he allowed his man to get free on the tying goal, I think it was, in the third period. A mistake you see regularly in the NHL, but that’s very common for a junior player. The next day I did video with him, we went on the ice and kind recreated the situation and since then — that play happens so many times in a game — he learned from that mistake.
“He’s still going to make mistakes — everybody, especially kids, do — but his ability to absorb information, to adjust, is pretty uncommon in a player his age.”
On making the final call, added Hartley, there were no agonized moments, no heated discussions, no hand-wringing or ‘What if?’ing within the coaching/management group. They were sold, unanimously.
“I’d say it was a pretty easy decision. I’d go to Jay sometimes and ask ‘Am I playing the kid too much?’ And he’d say ‘Play him like you would any other player.’ After games, I’d always sit with Jay and we’d go over things, go over the game, and whenever we got to Monny we’d each have this little smile, like we were discussing this great investment. His minutes kept going up because he deserved those minutes.”
In only a few weeks, Sean Monahan has filled a vital role in the rethinking of this franchise. He’s provided an image of genuine hope. In him, in these early exploits, Flames’ fans can see tangible promise for the future, a reason to believe in the path ahead. And that, under the circumstances, is no small thing.
“I see a passion for the game, I see poise and maturity,” praised Hartley. “It’s the way he handles . . . everything. ‘Pressure’ isn’t a word in his dictionary. Many times, a young centreman will start on the wing because as a coaching staff you feel the kid has less responsibility; maybe he’s not strong enough, can’t read the game well enough. Sean Monahan didn’t play one shift at wing for us, because we had enough confidence in him in the middle.
“From Day 1, you could tell he was determined to be here, to stay here. The first training camp for any 18 year old just drafted is a learning experience. They show up in OK shape. Sean Monahan was not in OK shape. He was one of the fittest guys in camp. That’s very unusual.
“Usually a kid that age, he goes to the gym, admires himself in the mirror and considers that a workout. Not this kid.”
Working alongside renaissance man Jiri Hudler and the ever-improving Sven Baertschi, the kid has already carved out a niche for himself on the Flames’ most dangerous line, while captivating a city.
So it’s official: Sean stays.
“He’s just going to get better and better,” lauded Hartley, on the day of Sean Monahan’s christening as a bonafide NHLer. “He has a lot to learn, yes, but he has a lot to offer. We’re very excited about his future.
“And he’s here because of one reason and one reason only:
“He’s earned it.”
George Johnson is the Herald sports columnist. E-mail him at email@example.com
Follow George Johnson on Twitter/GeorgejohnsonCH
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