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Paving the way

Tuesday, 09.06.2009 / 11:26 AM / News
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Paving the way
MONTREAL -- Hedman or Tavares? Tavares or Hedman? In late June, either the sniper from Ontario or the hulking Swedish defenseman will follow in the footsteps of Stamkos, Ovechkin, Crosby, Kovalchuk and…Monahan.

The first-ever first overall selection in NHL Draft history didn’t hear his name called over the loud speaker or pose for pictures in his new team’s jersey.  On June 5, 1963, Montreal hosted the inaugural Draft at the Queen Elizabeth Hotel, where Sam Pollock and the Canadiens staked their claim to the first No. 1 pick, 15-year-old Garry Monahan.  While going first overall these days comes with fanfare and superstar-sized expectations, back then, the Draft was far more under the radar.

“There was absolutely no publicity or media attention surrounding the event.  You wouldn’t even know what had taken place during the Draft unless the phone rang for you at your parent’s house,” recalled the 62-year-old Monahan, who suited up for 14 games with the Canadiens before going on to play for the Red Wings, Kings, Maple Leafs and Canucks over his 12-year NHL career.  “I didn’t know anything about the Draft until I got a call from Sam Pollock telling me I had been drafted by the Montreal Canadiens.  Even then, I had no idea what that really meant.”

Monahan caught the Habs’ GM’s eye while he was starring for the St. Michael’s College Buzzers, where dozens of Toronto Maple Leafs prospects had also taken their first strides towards the NHL.

“A lot of players made their way to St. Michaels because they were part of the Leafs’ association, but I was there just by chance.  My dad and my brother went there so it just seemed natural that I would go there too,” offered the former left winger, who admits he had always viewed hockey as his passion rather than a career opportunity.

Now working as a top real estate agent in Vancouver, the man who has 748 games of NHL experience under his belt still isn’t sure what drew the scouts’ attention in his direction in the first place. 

“When I joined the team in midget as a 15-year-old, all the other kids were 17 and I had a really tough time that season,” confessed Monahan. “So when I was drafted, I was probably the most surprised kid in the world.”

When the shock finally faded, the young center received a visit from Canadiens’ power brokers Pollock and Scotty Bowman.  The Montreal duo was in town to offer Monahan a spot with the Peterborough Petes, the Habs’ minor league affiliate at the time.  The NHL’s original No. 1 decided to spend one more season at St. Mike’s to earn his diploma before finally hitting the road for Peterborough.

But with all of the superstars picked first overall since him, does Monahan feel any sense of pride about being the league’s first first? 

“Well, I can tell you now that it really was the peak of my career,” he laughed.

Shauna Denis is a writer for canadiens.com

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