Being first-ever draft pick memorable for Monahan
Garry Monahan doesn't know whether to be embarrassed or turn nostalgic when reminded he was the first player chosen in the inaugural NHL Amateur Draft a half-century ago.
Back in the early 1960s, being drafted usually referred to packing a suitcase and joining the military. But on June 5, 1963, Monahan learned a new meaning for the word.
As the NHL prepares for the 50th annual selection process, there's no better individual to help turn back the clock than the first man ever selected.
"I was 16 years old and playing hockey, but there had never been a draft before … maybe there was some publicity in the newspapers, but I certainly wasn't aware of it and neither were my parents," Monahan told NHL.com.
Monahan was working at a tree nursery in Toronto the day the Montreal Canadiens announced him as the first pick in the inaugural draft, held at Montreal's Queen Elizabeth Hotel. After making the pick, Canadiens general manager Sam Pollock needed to reach out to the Monahan residence with the news.
"So Pollock calls the house after the draft and tells my father that 'the Montreal Canadiens drafted Garry in the first round,'" Monahan said. "After a few seconds, my dad says, 'Do you mean Pat Monahan, Garry's brother?' That was a bit deflating, to say the least."
Pat Monahan, two years older than Garry, was regarded as the better hockey player, according to his younger brother.
"But I was playing above my head and against older players, so it's tough to compare," he said.
By introducing a draft, the NHL hoped to eliminate the sponsorship of amateur teams and players by its six member clubs. The drafting system would provide each team with an equal opportunity to acquire amateur players.
Monahan, who was starring for the St. Michael's Juveniles in Toronto at the time, remains the youngest player to be selected first, at 16 years and seven months.
"It was such a non-event and a non-story at the time," Monahan, 65, said. "We were flabbergasted and didn't know what the heck Pollock was talking about until we finally figured it out."
Monahan said that the Maple Leafs probably paid close attention to St. Michael's because of their close connection with the junior organization.
"I'm assuming we received more attention at St. Mike's than a lot of other teams and the Leafs were watching players like Jimmy Keon, Jimmy Merchant and Mike Corrigan to see what their prospects were doing, and during that time they also saw me," Monahan said. "I was a little younger than everyone else but a little bigger and probably as good as skater as the rest of them, so I must have caught someone's eye."
Monahan was told later on that Hockey Hall of Famer Roger Neilson, who later would coach Monahan with Peterborough of the Ontario Hockey Association, had input into his being drafted.
Monahan, a center, appeared in only 14 games with the Canadiens since the club was stacked down the middle with players such as Jean Beliveau, Henri Richard, Ralph Backstrom and Jacques Lemaire.
Monahan was asked if he recalled battling for fourth-line duty with Lemaire.
"That fourth spot was really open at center, and reading the writing on the wall, I would say it was between myself and Jacques," Monahan said. "Even though I'd been away from home in Peterborough for three years [after the draft], I felt very uncomfortable in Montreal. They told you nothing and kept you in the dark.
"Looking back at it, I was totally out of my element and Jacques, being French and from Montreal, played with Serge [Savard] and all these guys. He probably felt more at home than I did, but he turned out to be a fabulous player."
As was the second player selected in the 1963 draft -- Peter Mahovlich.
Mahovlich, who was playing for St. Michael's at the time he was selected by the Detroit Red Wings with the No. 2 pick, ultimately would star in Montreal for several seasons and play a part in four Stanley Cup championships (1971, 1973, 1976, 1977).
When asked why he felt Pollock selected him instead of Mahovlich with the first pick, Monahan said, "Sammy Pollock was the shrewdest man in hockey because he drafted me first, which was very astute. But even more astute, he realized within two years that he had made a mistake, so he turned around and traded me for Peter. How clever is that? He wasn't afraid to admit his mistakes."
In June 1969, Pollock traded Monahan and Doug Piper to Detroit in exchange for Bart Crashley and Mahovlich.
"Peter went on to play with Guy Lafleur, of course, and I went on to play with … I don't know who," Monahan said.
Monahan did have a rather fulfilling NHL career that led to other ventures. In 51 games with the Red Wings in 1969-70, he had just three goals and seven points before being traded to the Los Angeles Kings. Following a trade to the Maple Leafs, Monahan flourished on a line with Dave Keon and Billy MacMillan over the next four seasons. He'd also spend some time with the Vancouver Canucks, and finished with 116 goals and 285 points in 748 games spanning 12 seasons.
"It's pretty amazing to think it was 50 years ago that I was drafted," Monahan said. "I still get mileage out of it … it's a good trivia question. But I've gone on to have a good career aside from hockey."
Monahan has three sons, all married, and four grandchildren.
"I was in broadcasting for many years and then I worked as a stock broker and was in real estate," he said. "I've received a lot of clients and notoriety because of hockey, so it's all been great."