Since 1917, more than 1,000 men have worn the Blue and White in Toronto’s NHL history. They’re part of a team
that millions of Canadians grew up listening to on radio, watching on TV or even seeing live, perhaps dreaming they could play for them one day. Each player has his own story, whether it was one game or 20-plus seasons. Some won as many as five Stanley Cups, others are part of the current 52-year drought. The Sun is taking a look at some unique Maple Leafs and their experience in Toronto in our new series. Today, we profile Garry Monahan.
Monahan was a kind of accidental tourist at times in his NHL career.
He was first pick in the first-ever NHL draft (1963 by Montreal), played with a bevy of Hall Of Fame Canadiens (once taking Jean Beliveau’s train berth by mistake), dressed next to Gordie Howe and Alex Delvecchio in Detroit (as No. 11 after 9 and 10), was Dave Keon’s winger in his last 30-goal season in Toronto, was among the first to be on all three modern Canadian teams (Habs, Leafs and Canucks) and spent time in the Japanese league.
But for the former St. Michael’s College student — “it took me four TTC buses from Scarborough to get to school” — the Leafs were a memorable part of his 12-year career.
“I wasn’t as avid a Leafs fan growing up as some kids, but it was a big deal being back home in front of friends and family,” Monahan said on the phone from Vancouver. “To play at the storied Gardens was an experience and when I arrived (in a trade with Los Angeles for Bob Pulford) there was George Armstrong, Bob Baun, Ron Ellis and Dave still there from (the ‘67 Cup team).”
Monahan enjoyed the company of owner Harold Ballard, who came on many road trips with sidekick King Clancy.
“He was great to work for at that time of his life. He was fun-loving, he came on our little prop charters to Boston and New York, he’d pay for a big team dinner where he told some great stories.”
On the ice, the Leafs under coaches John McLellan and Red Kelly were doing their best as raids from the new World Hockey Association chipped away at the roster.
“We had some good teams. Playing with an old St. Mike’s guy such as Keon helped me. We were a defensive line for a while with Billy MacMillan on the right side. We shadowed the big guys such as Phil Esposito and Jean Ratelle. I had some puck skills that aided Dave a bit when he had 37 goals (in ‘72-73).”
Hockey Night In Canada ran an intermission feature around that time called Mr. Average NHL, which co-related all the stats of players; age, points, height, weight and birthplace, seeking the league’s common denominator in an early stab at analytics. Monahan, who never missed a Leafs’ game, was the ‘winner’ though it wasn’t exactly a catchy nickname.
He was traded to the Canucks for defenceman Dave Dunn in ‘74, but came back to Toronto one more season in ‘78-79.
“That wasn’t as much fun. I wasn’t playing as much and Harold had become (erratic). That was the year he fired Roger Neilson and then tried to bring him back with a bag over his head on the bench.”
After his last spin with the Leafs, Monahan made West Vancouver his second home.
“It was a great place to play, expectations on the Canucks weren’t overly high at the time and my family (wife Barb and three boys) loved the city.”
He spent a few years with Tokyo’s Seibu Tetsudo as Japan opened to import players, a relaxed 20-game schedule with Monahan getting a point a game.
“My wife found a job teaching there and my Japanese became good enough I could go around town comfortably.”
In Vancouver, he’s had a variety of careers in the financial industry, real estate and as analyst on Canucks broadcasts, before retiring for good. He’s still active as his 74th birthday approaches, grateful that the Covid-19 restrictions in B.C. have lifted so he can golf, play tennis and bike.
Every time Vancouver hosts the NHL draft, Monahan is quizzed about getting chosen first in ‘63 as a 16-year-old. Few heard of the behind-closed-doors draft at the time and when GM Sam Pollock called the Monahan home,
Garry’s father thought he wanted Pat, an older brother more well known at the time.
FAVOURITE LEAFS MEMORY
When coach McLellan took ill during the ‘71-72 season, the 69-year-old Clancy filled in.
“We had a game in L.A., it’s late March, really warm there and we needed a win to make the playoffs,” Monahan recalled. “King comes in our room before the game, this leprechaun legend, and starts pacing back and forth, but saying nothing.
“He’s sweating badly, takes his coat off, then his suit jacket and we could see the perspiration stains all over his shirt.
We’re all quiet, expecting something really profound from him. Finally, he says ‘boys, it’s so hot in here you could float a log boom down my back to the crack of my ass’.
“That broke us all up. And we won the game and made the playoffs.”
BORN: Oct. 20, 1946 in Barrie, Ont.
POSITION: Left wing
NUMBERS: 20, 14
LEAFS YEARS: 1970-75, ‘78-89
LEAFS STATS: 375 GP, 55-80-135, 274 PIM