Idaho Steelheads defenseman Guillaume Monast
fights hard to keep his plus/minus exactly where he wants it to be.
The first-year pro likes to have a little fun with his teammates, no matter how veteran their status. Toward the end of the regular season, for instance, he went after captain Marty Flichel
by loading his gloves, skates, helmet and cup with wrapped gum.
To Monast, that qualifies as a plus.
"It was the end of the season. I spent all year with him. He's a good guy," Monast said.
Apparently, not as good as Monast might have hoped. Flichel retaliated by filling Monast's gloves with shaving cream before a morning skate.
Normally, that would be what you call a minus -- but not to Monast.
"At the beginning of the year I realized this was going to be a good team. When I was looking at other players, I was like, 'Oh, I want to be good.' But it made me realize you can be good and not have big numbers. If you want to play every night, you have to be consistent and win your one-on-one battles."
-- Guillaume Monast
He refused to concede an inch and took the ice without acknowledging there was anything wrong. Shaving cream oozed out of his gloves, streaked his jersey and smeared his helmet and face, yet he wouldn't give Flichel the satisfaction of removing them.
"I didn't want to make him think that he won," Monast said. "He was like, 'It's slippery, huh?' I was like, 'I don't know what you are talking about.' I started sweating. It became like liquid. But I'm not taking my gloves off."
Clearly this is a player who goes the limit for his cause, regardless of what that cause might be. Fortunately for the Steelheads, most of the time it's been sweeping clear scoring chances from the Idaho defensive zone.
Monast, 22, tied for fourth in the ECHL this season with a plus-30. He also leads all playoff performers with a plus-14 through nine games.
While plus/minus figures can be twisted different ways, these are the very definition of what the statistic is supposed to measure. Up until Game 5 of the National Conference finals against Stockton, Monast had not scored a single goal all season, meaning his plus-minus is almost completely a reflection of the goals he's helped keep off the board.
"At the beginning of the year I realized this was going to be a good team," he said. "When I was looking at other players, I was like, 'Oh, I want to be good.' But it made me realize you can be good and not have big numbers. If you want to play every night, you have to be consistent and win your one-on-one battles."
Monast came to the Steelheads with the reputation of a defenseman who won those battles on the other side of the puck first and foremost. He went 8-22 for Halifax of the QMJHL two seasons ago and 5-38 for Quebec in 2008-09. Dallas saw enough offensive potential to give him an NHL-AHL pact.
But Monast found that a lot of the moves that worked in junior easily were solved in the ECHL.
"I was playing a junior game when I came to the pros this year. Maybe in juniors I was not paying attention that much," he said. "Before, I would do good passes, but put myself in a bad position by trying to do too much. Maybe at the beginning, that (scoring) was what I was caring about too much."
The start of a new calendar year turned Monast in a different direction for two reasons. First, Idaho traded for defenseman Dustin Friesen
, and since January the two have been a main pairing against opponents' top lines.
Secondly, the recognition of the potential for his new role kicked in. Through December, Monast was a plus-4. Then he ripped off a plus-6 in January, a plus-9 in February and a plus-10 in March.
"The biggest thing is commitment. You have to want to put the time in to defend. He's done a very good job of rounding out his game," Idaho coach Derek Laxdal
"I proved I changed the focus of my game," Monast said. "When you see a zero in the goals (scored) column, it is kind of depressing. I did everything I could to get a plus. I had a feeling of urgency to not get scored on. It made it kind of a mission."
That charge fell short of a recall to defense-rich Texas, although Monast figures he milked the most from a season-long run in Idaho.
"Personally, I think I'm ready to go," he said. "But that's a team decision. It (staying in the ECHL) gave me the opportunity to play and learn the game."
And snare a few victims along the way. If Monast wasn't around, who would have written on the team whiteboard in the dressing room that a certain restaurant was giving away free meals when that wasn't true? Or post the message that player so-and-so needed to see Laxdal when the coach never requested such a meeting?
"He's got a good personality," Flichel said. "You have to love the game. He sure does."
Monast liked it a lot more when he finally was able to put proof of his effort up on the scoreboard. His second-period goal in Game 5 gave the Steelheads a 3-2 lead in a pivotal contest that Idaho won 6-3.
"It was about time," Monast said. "They (his teammates) were pretty pumped. (Friesen) and some of the older guys were saying I was just waiting for the right moment (to score). When I scored, it was going to be a big one."
Fun, yes. But hardly intoxicating.
"The goals are just a bonus for me now. I'm really trying to be a solid defenseman," Monast said. "I really want my teammates to have the feeling when I'm on the ice, they can trust me. I just hope I can take that type of game to the next level, whenever that happens."