CALGARY - When Canadian junior team head coach Steve Spott praises a player he usually means the compliment.
Spott had some flattering words the other day for forward Charles Hudon and the Chicoutimi forward didn't have to play in 4-1 loss to the University of Alberta Golden Bears on Wednesday. Instead, he watched with the likes of bigger names Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Jonathan Huberdeau, Mark Scheifele, Dougie Hamilton and Morgan Rielly in seats reserved for players destined to make the team's final roster.
The Canadian head coach also had some acclaim for 18-year-old centre Sean Monahan, when the coach remarked, "his hockey sense, in my mind, is at a National Hockey League level right now."
But Monahan was among the five players cut by Spott and his coaching staff on Wednesday, a group that also included Portland defenceman Derrick Pouliot, Erie defenceman Adam Pelech, Monahan's Ottawa 67's teammate Tyler Graovac and Rimouski forward Francis Beauvillier.
8 more to be released Thursday
"It's obviously tough," Monahan said, moments after he was released. "I'll use this as motivation and hold my head high."
Spott has to trim three more defencemen, four forwards and a goalie to get down his final roster. He called the experience of releasing this first group as "unpleasant."
But he hoped to see each of the first cuts in a Team Canada sweater in the future.
"He has elite hockey sense," Spott said of Monahan. "He is just one of those players who can play in any situation - 5-on-5, 5-on-4, on your [penalty kill]. Sean has that innate ability. He is going to be an elite NHL player. There is no doubt about that."
It was high praise for a kid expected to be among the top-10 selections in the 2013 NHL entry draft, and one of only five draft eligible players invited to the Canadian junior selection camp.
When it comes to those youngsters most of the talk has been about Halifax Moosehead teammates Nathan MacKinnon and Jonathan Drouin. Which is why everybody took notice of Spott's praise for Monahan.
"To hear it come from a high-end coach like him, it's a good feeling for me," Monahan said.
Does he agree with the coach's words?
"I honestly don't know. I think I can read the game well. I know what's going to happen. I don't know if I'm equivalent of an NHL player, but I could get there maybe."
Monahan began playing hockey at age three. When he got older the six-foot-two, 186-pound Monahan said he watched a lot of NHL games and liked to focus on Joe Sakic, Steve Yzerman or Peter Forsberg.
The selection camp was a difficult situation for Monahan. He hasn't played since Nov. 18 because of a 10-game suspension he received for elbowing Plymouth captain Colin MacDonald in the head. But Monahan does have plenty of international experience and could be a part of this team next year.
He won gold at the 2011 World Under-17 Challenge with Ontario and celebrated a championship again at the 2011 Ivan Hlinka Memorial under-18 with Canada. He also captained the Mississauga Rebels midget team to the 2010 OHL Cup and won tournament MVP honours.
He was the second youngest player - by one day - to Hunter Shinkaruk on the Canadian squad in the Canada-Russia Challenge last summer. Monahan checked in with two goals and four points in the four games on a team coached by Spott.The son of Cathy and John Monahan comes by his hockey smarts honestly. John played at Sheridan College, and Sean has two uncles Rick Hay and Craig Teeple who played hockey at a high level.
"I talk to both of them about four times a week," Monahan said.
But it's not just hockey Monahan excels at. He is an elite-level lacrosse player, a sport he gave up when he joined the 67's three seasons ago. Still, in down times and post-workouts he often takes out his lacrosse stick and throws the ball around as an outlet.
"I think playing lacrosse helped me develop as a hockey player," Monahan said. "You need good eye-hand coordination to play both sports."
His deft eye-hand coordination certainly was on display a few years ago in a beach volleyball tournament. Monahan is such a good athlete that a few years ago, he and his best friend Michael Kussman decided on a whim to enter a 40-team beach volleyball event near his Brampton, Ont. home.
They played together on St. Thomas Aquinas on the volleyball team. So they weren't novices. But they did surprise everyone and win the tournament.
Monahan just couldn't win a spot on this Canadian junior team. But there will be next year.
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