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Monahan's NHL debut didn't last long

Top pick in League's initial draft was knocked out seconds into first game with Canadiens

by Dave Stubbs @dave_stubbs / Columnist

BUFFALO -- Garry Monahan vividly recalls his 1967 NHL debut, which is remarkable given that he was knocked unconscious about 12 seconds into it.

The Montreal Canadiens had made Monahan, then 16, their first selection in the inaugural NHL Draft on June 5, 1963. He arrived in Montreal for training camp four autumns later, having played one season at St. Michael's College School in Toronto and three more with the major-junior Peterborough Petes, who in the mid-1970s would send Bob Gainey and Doug Jarvis to the Canadiens.

Monahan latched on with the Canadiens organization in the autumn of 1967, shuttling between Montreal and its Central Hockey League farm team, the Houston Apollos. He ended up playing 11 games that season with the Canadiens, who were blessed at center with captain Jean Beliveau, future captain Henri Richard, the industrious Ralph Backstrom and flashy rookie Jacques Lemaire.

Monahan dressed for his first NHL game on Oct. 21, 1967, at the Montreal Forum. He recalls warming the end of the bench as the Canadiens pulled away from the Boston Bruins. With Montreal up by a few goals late in the game, Monahan felt the hand of coach Toe Blake on his back.

"I'd been on the bench for 2 ½ periods when Toe came down and said, 'Monahan, take off Beliveau,' " he said with a laugh some years ago when he reconstructed his maiden shift. "I climbed over the boards, already out of breath, my legs like ice, and I'm panting just getting to the faceoff circle. I say, 'OK, Jean, take a rest.'

"Ten seconds later I have the puck behind my own net, for some reason. I'm a center, so I'm not sure why I'm back there."

He was sure, however, that he was about to be freight-trained by Bruins newcomer Eddie Shack, so he fired the puck along the boards to a teammate at the blue line. Monahan braced for impact, he and Shack crumpling together in a heap.

But the young Canadien scrambled to his skates, "again out of breath, from nerves."

Whoever had received Monahan's pass at the blue line decided to return it, with force, high along the glass.

"It hit me flat, on the cheekbone near the bridge of my nose, and cut me in three different places," he said. "Down I went. I remember dropping my gloves. There was [defenseman] J.C. Tremblay, and I recall grabbing at his sweater as I sunk to my knees, out cold.

"They dragged me off after a shift of about 10 seconds. That was it."

The injury looked worse than it was, but its timing was dreadful. A day or two later, a photographer from the Topps company arrived at the Forum to shoot that season's bubble-gum cards.

Monahan, who would wear No. 20 for each of his 11 games with the Canadiens that season and No. 11 for his final three in 1968-69, was inexplicably given a grab bag of equipment for the photo.

With an ugly red welt beneath his left eye and Photoshop not yet invented, he was snapped in Yvan Cournoyer's No. 12 jersey, wearing Gilles Tremblay's No. 5 gloves to hold a stick stenciled with Dick Duff's No. 8.

Monahan still has the card today somewhere in his Vancouver home, "probably in the attic." So what if the card might fetch just 20 bucks in near-mint condition. Or that Topps labeled him as "Gary," leaving out an "r."

The memories of his NHL debut with the Canadiens are what matter most. After all, he figures, there's no putting a price on a first-shift rookie skating over to a legend and saying, "OK, Jean, take a rest.

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