Monday, February 24, 2014

Sean Monahan Adjusts to Life as a Celebrity

Just prior to the Olympic break, I sat down one-on-one with Calgary Flames rookie centre Sean Monahan and get his take on how his first NHL season is going both on and off the ice. In our conversation, we covered a number of topics including:
  • His billet situation and the joy of home-cooked meals
  • How he deals with being recognized everywhere he goes
  • Strange requests he's received from fans
  • What it's like to see fans wearing his jersey
  • His take on the ever-popular @BoringMonahan Twitter account
  • His favourite moment of the season so far

In addition, I also picked the brain of veteran teammate Matt Stajan on his memories of being in the NHL as a teenager as there are some parallels from his situation as a rookie with Toronto to what Monahan is going through and I wanted to capture his perspective... although as you'll read, there were significant differences also. 

Here's the story that ran across The Canadian Press news wire on Feb. 2. It also appeared in the print edition of The Calgary Herald on Feb. 3.

Bonus Material

As can happen when writing feature articles like this, there is more great stuff than I had space for in the CP story. Here is a spattering of other random, yet relevant quotes from Monahan and Stajan, that didn't make the article, but would have been part of my 'Director's Cut' version of the article:

Monahan -- On his biggest fan -- his Dad

His dad is still living in Toronto and while that means he has only seen eight or nine games live – a far cry from having watched nearly every one of Monahan’s 205 OHL games over three seasons with the Ottawa 67’s, he still watches them on TV and Sean says he calls him regularly.

"I basically call him after every game or the next day, I'll see what the time is with the time difference. I talk to him a lot and it's a relationship I'll always have with him," Monahan said. "He knows that I have a lot going on so he keeps it easy on me but he always lets me know if I'm doing good or if there's something I can improve on."

Monahan -- On adjusting to being a popular player in a hockey-mad market

"It's a lot of fun, it's a challenge and so far, I've learned a lot and I think it's really benefiting me," he said. "A lot of people do know who I am here so you have to be smart in what you do and you have to be polite to everyone."

Monahan -- On the Flames road trip in late March to Ontario

"It will be pretty cool. Obviously I  have a lot of friends that haven't seen me play yet in the NHL," said Monahan. "Toronto, I lived right there so there will be a lot of people there to come watch me play and it will be a lot of fun playing in front of them."

"Ottawa will be nice too, playing junior there, my billets and some teammates that I've played with the last couple years might be there," Monahan said. "I'll be buying a lot of tickets for that trip."

Monahan -- On Johnny Gaudreau

While the Calgary Flames fan base is all gaga for Gaudreau these days, it's a different situation for the players, especially when you're a first-year player like Monahan, who is more concerned with his own game and continuing to improve. Monahan confessed he wasn't aware of how Gaudreau was doing this season (Spoiler Alert: He's doing not bad!) and hasn't kept in touch with him.

"I got to know him a bit but I didn't get to know him too well at development camp," said Monahan. "I played with him a little so I got to know him on the ice and he's a good player and he's easy to play with but I haven't really been keeping tabs on him."

Monahan -- On his season so far, including his shootout prowess

Asked what the most improved part of his game was so far, he said, "My full two-way game. I've learned a lot from my defensive zone out and it's something I always want to get better at. I've been working on it all year and from that first game until now, it's improved a lot."

Monahan has gone 3-for-6 in shootouts with all of them being game-winning goals.

"You've got to enjoy it. As a hockey player, that's the position you want to be in," said Monahan. "You want to be able to make the difference in a game. Getting the opportunity to do that, it's pretty special and capitalizing on a couple of them is pretty nice too."

He also admitted his shootout history prior to the NHL wasn't stellar.

"In junior my first couple years, I was pretty good at them but last year I think I was 0-for-5. It just comes and goes. You've really got to bear down in this league to find the openings in goalies and it's something I work on with Berra after practice and I think it's helping me."

Stajan -- On similarities/differences between his situation and Monahan's

"It's a different. It's 10 years apart and the game has changed. It was still the old rules then so there was clutching and grabbing and the game wasn't quite as fast as it is now," Stajan said. "For me, the biggest adjustment was getting stronger and playing against men. In today's game, you still have to make that adjustment. But if you get hooked, you don't have to battle through the hook, it's a penalty."

"He's a mature kid. We have a lot of veteran guys in here that are here to help him if he has any questions. He's like a sponge, he's learning on the go. That's what I tried to do. I just try to watch the guys around me. I was lucky enough to play with four or five hall-of-famers on the team -- my roommate was Joe Nieuwendyk that year. Just from being around those guys and watching and taking in how they handles themselves and prepare. As a kid, you just want to learn and that's what I wanted to do and that's what Mony is doing here."

Stajan -- On his experiences as a teen in the NHL and how he is trying to help Monahan

"I talk to him all the time because he grew up in Toronto so he watched the Leafs growing up. You try to take everything in. He's more comfortable now. The older guys always help you but at the same time, you have to make sure that you stay on an even keel. You don't want to get too high because you are in the NHL and you get excited. You don't ever want to get too low if things aren't going well."

Stajan -- On the veteran presence he had in Toronto and also the luxury of living at home

"I had that from those guys (Nieuwendyk, Sundin, Reichel, Francis) and I feel we're trying to do the same for Mony but he's a laid back guy to begin with," said Stajan, who also lived with his parents his first season. "It's the same situation with Mony having his mom here right now. It helps you just concentrate on hockey. You don't have to worry about all the things away from the game that if you're living on your own, it can be tough and living in a new city. You're 19 years old but you're still a kid at the end of the day. You can be mature but you still have a lot to learn and I think it's good for Mony and I'm sure next year, he'll be that much better off."

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