How NHL’s Monahan, NBA’s Ennis honed skills on same lacrosse team

Watch as Sean Monahan scores his 30th goal of the season after some nice passing by Johnny Gaudreau and T.J. Brodie to extend the Calgary Flames' lead to 4-0 over the Buffalo Sabres.

Tyler Ennis knew from a young age that he was a basketball player before anything else. So when he played for the Brampton Excelsiors lacrosse team during his elementary-school summers, Ennis let other kids own the spotlight.

The future Los Angeles Lakers guard was happy to play defence, using his big body to deliver checks and block shots. Meanwhile, a teammate named Sean would handle most of the scoring.

Ennis was the lone basketball player on the lacrosse club, surrounded by boys who played hockey together. After each season on the ice they’d come back with plenty of stories, usually in awe of Sean’s latest feats.

“They would tell me, ‘He’s the best, by far,’” Ennis says. “He was the best player we had in lacrosse, but they would say, ‘He’s like 10 times better in hockey.’”

Turns out that gifted teammate was Sean Monahan, future star of the NHL’s Calgary Flames.

The two played together for several summers growing up in Brampton, Ont., where Rogers Hometown Hockey makes a stop this weekend, before eventually losing touch. Ennis moved on from the sport, shifting his focus solely to basketball. On the other hand, Monahan’s bond with lacrosse only deepened.

“It’s weird to say, but I actually prefer to play lacrosse over hockey,” Monahan says. “I love both games. But when I got drafted to the OHL and I had to start training in the summer and had to give up lacrosse, that was really difficult for me.

“It’s something that I still always think about.”

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All that time spent in the lacrosse box seemed to only enhance Monahan’s skills on the ice. His hand-eye co-ordination and timing became refined and he learned how to roll off checks. Monahan developed into a dynamic forward during a hugely successful three-year stint with the Ottawa 67’s of the OHL, before the Flames drafted him sixth overall in 2013.

Ennis says his father, an avid hockey fan, was the first one to point out to him that Monahan had become a promising prospect.

“I was not surprised,” Ennis admits. “But to hear he was doing so well, and was a top pick in the NHL, was crazy.”

One year later, it was Ennis’s turn to become a first-rounder, as the Phoenix Suns selected him 18th overall in the NBA Draft.

“It was funny that two guys on a lacrosse team ended up playing two totally different sports and get drafted and go on to become pros,” he says.

The pair reconnected a few years ago via social media and exchanged phone numbers, but that hasn’t yet resulted in a face-to-face meetup. It’s not for a lack of trying, though. They came close once, when Monahan and the Flames were in New York for a game and Ennis was there one day later. Ultimately, it didn’t work out.

When the schedules of the busy 23-year-olds finally align, Ennis hopes to once again don the same jersey as his former lacrosse teammate.

“I actually haven’t been to a professional hockey game, so it would be cool if my first game is him playing the Maple Leafs,” says Ennis. “I definitely want to get a Flames jersey of his and represent just because we’re both from Brampton and played together and grew up together.”

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