How Calgary’s sophomore star and veteran tough guy forged one of the locker room’s closest friendships

Bold, menacing, and heavily-tattooed, Brian McGrattan has been giving opponents nightmares for years. Weighing north of 235 pounds, and standing 6’4, the 33-year-old Calgary Flames winger has paved his NHL career with his fists.

This makes his close friendship with the Flames’ smooth-skating 20-year-old centre, Sean Monahan all the more intriguing.

Monahan was a highly-touted centre after two strong junior seasons for the Ottawa 67’s, before being drafted sixth overall by the Calgary Flames in 2013. His slick puck handling skills, high hockey IQ and pure ability to put the puck in the net gave fans hope about a player who might one day fill the void left by former captain, Jarome Iginla.

To put it simply, McGrattan and Monahan are completely opposite on the ice.

Off the ice, the dissimilarities continue to pile up. Monahan is calm, reserved, and comes off as shy towards the media. McGrattan’s reputation is the opposite. The popular @boringmonahan Twitter profile, to which McGrattan has falsely been accused of creating, pokes fun at Monahan’s quiet nature.Second-year forward Sean Monahan looks to build upon his 22-goal campaign last year. His friendship with teammate Brian McGrattan is growing and known around the league.

Photo courtesy of Gerry Thomas/Calgary Flames

So how did the two players with completely different on-ice roles and polar opposite personalities become the best of friends off the ice? It all started when McGrattan took the baby-faced teenager under his wing during Monahan’s rookie season.

Teams often task veteran players, like McGrattan, with showing the rookies the ropes to ease the process of getting settled into the NHL, both on and off the ice. Coming into his first NHL camp, Monahan didn’t know what to expect.

But out of all the mentors Monahan had, he seemed to have the most unique bond with McGrattan.

“As the season went on, me and Grats started to get along really well, and sitting beside each other on the plane and stuff like that,” Monahan said. “I think ever since, that friendship has grown and we’re really good buddies now.”

Last year, McGrattan put together his best statistical season since entering the NHL in 2006. While the fan-favourite posted a humble eight points, he played more minutes in different situations, and adopted a bigger leadership role on the team. Through his career, that saw stops in Ottawa, Nashville, Phoenix as well as Calgary, the grizzled veteran has developed into a team leader. The leadership he extended to Monahan grew into one of his closest friendships.

“He’s one of my closest buddies on the team,” McGrattan said. “You might not get that anywhere else, where one of the older guys is buddies with one of the younger guys, but it’s pretty cool.”

The odd pairing is reminiscent of other intriguing NHL duos. Hockey fans may draw comparisons to the relationship Wayne Gretzky had with The Edmonton Oilers’ resident tough guy, Dave Semenko. While Gretzky was shattering scoring records, and leading the Oilers to four Stanley Cup victories, Semenko lurked in the background making sure opponents stayed away from his good buddy.

On the ice before and after practice, the two like to keep it loose, and joke around. Monahan even sets the hulking winger up for a one-timer or two. It’s clear they enjoy each other’s company on the ice despite the different roles they play on the team.

But the friendship extends far beyond the confines of The Scotiabank Saddledome. The two players can be seen around the city hanging out, going to movies, or going for dinner in an effort to let loose away from the rink. Monahan is even sporting a new tattoo on his right bicep, courtesy of McGrattan’s favourite artist.

McGrattan has served as an inspiration to players outside the Flames’ locker room, as well. Since being drafted in 1999, the hulking enforcer has been involved in over 200 fights. However, the biggest fight of his life was a long bout with alcoholism. This December will mark his sixth year of sobriety.

From a player’s perspective, especially one who’s early in his career, having a close friend who acts as a role model could be a big part of growing as a player and an individual. Monahan cites McGrattan as someone he respects and someone he can learn from.

“He’s a good guy, and I respect him,” Monahan explained. “Obviously he’s an older guy and he’s been through a lot, so having that kind of guy as one of my good friends is pretty special and it will benefit me down the road.”

In his fourth season with the Calgary Flames and 10th in the NHL, enforcer Brian McGrattan has the back of youngster Sean Monahan both on and off the ice.

Photo courtesy of Gerry Thomas/Calgary FlamesIn the locker room, the rather intimidating McGrattan looked to be somewhat annoyed at the constant questions about the role of enforcers and fighters in the NHL during post-practice interviews. His mood seemed to change when he was asked about Monahan. Immediately, a smile replaced his grimace, and he was genuinely excited to be able to talk about the strong qualities, on and off the ice, that Monahan possesses.

“Monny’s a great kid, he really fits in well with this team. He’s a young guy, but he’s also one of our leaders by the way he plays and by the way he carries himself,” McGrattan explained.

While Monahan has never lived with McGrattan since he moved to Calgary as a rookie in 2013, it hasn’t been left out of question.

“He was living with Jiri [Hudler] for a little bit last year out of camp, and then he was by himself, and then this year I think he’s with [Lance Bouma], but my wife would love to have him living with us,” he said with a laugh.

The ten-year veteran predicts Monahan has a bright future ahead, and thinks he’ll do great things as a member of the Flames organization.

“I think this city and this organization should be very happy with the type of player that they have here,” McGrattan said confidently. “He’ll be a star player for years to come here. Down the line, a future captain of this team.”

Monahan had a solid first pro season, netting 22 goals and 12 assists in 75 games playing just under 16 minutes a game. Just like McGrattan, many Flames fans and analysts across the league expect Monahan will build on his strong rookie campaign, and develop into a star for the team in the years to come.

Monahan, McGrattan and the rest of the Flames will start the month of November on the road. The five game East Coast road trip begins in Montreal against the Canadiens on November 2, and wraps up with a game in Raleigh, NC against the Carolina Hurricanes on Nov. 10. It will be another good chance for the team to bond on the road before returning home to Calgary.

lsilva@cjournal.ca