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Monahan's meteoric rise mirrors improving Flames

by Mike Brophy

TORONTO -- Sean Monahan doesn't look at the size of the mountain before him; he looks for the quickest path to the top.

So it is no wonder the 20-year-old Calgary Flames center doesn't spend too much time talking about their meteoric rise to prominence last season, but instead concentrates on how he and the Flames can take things to the next level.

"Our expectations for sure will be higher," said Monahan, whose 62 points (31 goals) were third on the Flames. "Our goal is to stay focused as a team. We believe in each other and we believe we can not only make the playoffs again, but we can be better."

After missing the Stanley Cup Playoffs for five consecutive seasons, the Flames came to life last season. A 10-4-0 November had them convinced they were playoff material.

Then came the reality check.

Between Dec. 6 and 20, the Flames lost eight straight games and suddenly it was sink or swim time.

"We had a pretty good start to the season, started winning games and winning games in a row," Monahan said. "We were feeling pretty good about ourselves and really believing in each other, but then we went on the losing streak and we just said, this can't happen. You can't lose two games in a row in this League, and after that losing streak we picked it up. We battled in every game. We'd find a way to come back in third periods and get the two points. That's why we got where we did."

The Flames not only made the playoffs, they defeated the Vancouver Canucks in six games in the Western Conference First Round before losing in five games to the Anaheim Ducks.

Even with their captain and arguably their best player, defenseman Mark Giordano, missing 21 games because of injury, the Flames caught many opponents by surprise. Certainly Monahan's continued development helped, but so too did Jiri Hudler finding his game at 31 and rookie Johnny Gaudreau making an immediate impact. Hudler led the Flames in scoring with career highs in goals (31) and points (76), while Gaudreau, at 5-foot-9, 150 pounds, tied for the rookie lead in scoring with 64 points.

As the Flames move forward, there is no telling how much of an impact Monahan's continued development will play in their success. One thing is certain though, he will do whatever it takes to get what he wants.

That was evident when, at 15, Monahan cracked the lineup of the Ontario Hockey League's Ottawa 67's. In three seasons he scored 84 goals and 203 points in 185 games. After the Flames chose him sixth in the 2013 NHL Draft, the baby-faced Brampton, Ontario native set his sights on turning pro at 18.

"It was my goal to make the 67's as a 15-year old and it was my goal to make the Flames, after they drafted me, as an 18-year-old, and I worked hard at achieving both," Monahan said. "I used to play lacrosse in the summer and hockey in the winter, but once I realized how hard you had to work to make the NHL, I stopped playing lacrosse and worked hard at hockey. My goal was to go from junior to the NHL. I put in the work and tried to do whatever I could to make that jump."

Monahan surprised many by making the Flames in 2013 and proved it was no fluke by scoring 22 goals and 34 points. He nearly doubled in his offensive output as a sophomore and went from being minus-20 as a rookie to plus-8.

Flames general manager Brad Treliving said as young as Monahan is, when you spend time with him, you forget about his youth.

"The reason he has had success so far and the reason you think it won't be too much for him to handle the success is because of his maturity," Treliving said. "You spend time with him and when you walk away you forget he's 20 years old. There is a calmness, maturity and seriousness about him that is unique. He's not that giddy, giggly 20-year-old. He reminds me of a young Ron Francis."

Monahan is convinced he can continue his ascent in his third NHL season.

"I never put any number in terms of expectations on myself," Monahan said. "I just want to be better than the year before. Obviously I put a lot of work in this summer trying to get stronger and faster, and on the mental side of the game I am feeling more comfortable and confident. My goal is to be able to carry the puck more and create more this season. I want to do whatever I can to help my team win."

Monahan is convinced better days lie ahead for the Flames and there is a big reason why.

"We play a lot better when we play against the top teams," Monahan said. "We're up for them and we're motivated. We want to win and prove a point. It's exciting when you win against big teams that have high expectations."

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