June 22, 2007
Answer to trivia questionThat's how Garry Monahan, top pick in the first NHL draft, considers his hockey career
By STEVE SIMMONS -- Sun Media
When the telephone rang, 44 years and three weeks ago, Garry Monahan answered and didn't understand.
So he handed the phone to his father.
"All I remember was Sam Pollock saying 'The Montreal Canadiens have drafted you,'" said Monahan from his real estate office in Vancouver, "and my parents were saying 'What are you talking about?'
"My dad was getting agitated. We didn't know what the hell it meant. No one knew there was an NHL draft. There was no lead up. There wasn't anything in the papers.
"I was 16 years old, playing at St. Mike's with a bunch of older kids. Most of the time, I was on the third line. I never gave a single thought to playing pro hockey until I got that phone call."
In 1963, Garry Monahan became the first player selected in the first-ever NHL entry draft. There was no television show then. There was no new suit, no player agent, no perfunctory ball cap to wear, no three-word interview to mumble.
After the call, the Monahans hung up the phone: There was no celebration.
"In those days, the good players had signed C-forms," said Monahan, who turned 60 in October. "Some of the guys I played with at St. Mike's were sent there by the Leafs, like Jim Keon and Mike Corrigan. They were living at St. Mike's, boarding there. I didn't go to St. Mike's for hockey. I went because I was living in Toronto and I was Catholic."
The NHL Draft began when president Clarence Campbell determined the league needed a more equitable manner of distributing young talent. How different was it back then? The Boston Bruins were awarded first pick and declined. They preferred to draft third instead. In Round 3, after 13 players had gone, the Detroit Red Wings passed and didn't make their final two choices. In the fourth and final round, the Chicago Blackhawks passed on their selection.
In all, 21 players were chosen, 20 of them from Ontario. Some of the names remain familiar: Peter Mahovlich, from St. Mike's, taken right after Monahan by Detroit; the Leafs selected Walt McKechnie with their first pick, Jim McKenny with their third and Gerry Meehan with their fourth.
How long ago was this? Might have been the last time the Leafs outsmarted teams at the draft.
No overnight sensation himself, Monahan ended up playing his first full NHL season six years later after washing out with the Canadiens.
"I found the pressure in Montreal to be incredible," Monahan said. "Given my temperament and personality, I don't know if I was made for that.
"On my first game at the Montreal Forum, I sat on the bench for two and half periods and then finally (Jean) Beliveau scored to make it 4-1 and Toe Blake says to me 'Monahan, take off Beliveau.' I was so scared I could hardly make it to the ice. How do you to say to Beliveau 'I'm taking you off.' ?
"On my first shift I'm on the ice with Mickey Redmond and he seems as scared as I am. For some reason, he rimmed the puck around the boards and I didn't see it, and I didn't see (Eddie) Shack. The puck deflected off the boards and hit me in the eye and Shack hit me. Ten seconds into my NHL career and I'm being carried off on a stretcher. Nobody saw the puck coming. Shack got five minutes for elbowing and he didn't do anything.
"That was probably my highlight in Montreal."
Off the ice, it wasn't much better. On his first trip with the Canadiens, Monahan got lost in the train station, wasn't aware the team had its own car, and finally, exhausted and frustrated, a trainer found him wandering.
"I got on to the train, threw my stuff into a lower birth, and jumped into bed to hide. Just after that, Beliveau pulls the curtains and says 'Kid, what are you doing in my bed. Lower 4 is my bed. Everyone knows that.' "
He didn't. Monahan wound up playing five seasons in Toronto, four seasons in Vancouver, 14 games in Montreal, and parts of one season in Los Angeles and Detroit.
Does it mean anything to him that he was the first ever draft pick? "Other than being a trivia question?" he said laughing. "Yeah, it means I peaked too soon."