Nick Monfils knew that if the call came, his answer would be yes.
And as he was preparing to lead his Oshkosh Ice Hawk teammates into the Badgerland Conference Tournament semifinals a couple of weeks ago, his phone rang with that call.
“It was the Thursday before the conference tournament started when I got the call asking if I would come down and play,” Monfils recalled. “They wanted me to come down and join the team right away.”
The senior at Lourdes Academy tallied three goals and an assist in an upset win over Appleton in the semifinals the day after the call and then skated with the Ice Hawks in a 6-1 loss to Fond du Lac in the title game on Feb. 2.
Then, he loaded up his skates and sticks and joined the Corpus Christi Ice Rays of the North American Hockey League to begin his post-prep hockey career.
“We knew that I was for sure going if juniors came calling and asking me to play, I was going to play,” Monfils said in a phone interview from Corpus Christi earlier this week. “This is just a great accomplishment and it’s getting me closer to the goal I want to reach.”
The Ice Rays are one of 24 teams in the NAHL, which includes franchises in Janesville and Onalaska, and plays in the league’s South Division along with three other teams from Texas and two from Kansas. The league’s 60-game regular season runs from September until March, with playoffs to follow.
League rosters are peppered with players in the 17-21-year-old range who are looking to move up into a higher-level junior league, earn a college scholarship or get drafted into the National Hockey League.
That’s why bolting for Texas with a couple months left in the school year was something he needed to do.
“It gives you a better chance to be seen by colleges and (United States Hockey League) teams and so there’s always the opportunity and there’s always the chance it could happen,” Monfils said. “I believe it does speed the process up but it’s really based on how well I do here and how I can help team.”
Monfils is using the rest of Ice Rays’ season basically as an audition. If a team from a higher junior league, like the USHL, drafts him, he will have the opportunity to make that team and move up.
If not, it doesn’t mean the end of his junior career.
“If I don’t get drafted into a higher league then I’m with Corpus Christi next year and I’d be happy staying here,” Monfils said. “We have to see what happens.”
Monfils joined the team with roughly 16 games left in the regular season and the Ice Rays clinging to the final playoff spot in their conference and had an immediate impact.
In the first period of his first game in Corpus Christi, he scored two goals against Odessa. He picked up an assist the following night.
“It was just a really cool opportunity and unique thing that happened,” Monfils said of his two-goal debut. “It was my first time playing in front of that many fans. It was just a really cool atmosphere.”
Monfils has had to adjust his game, coming from the high school level. He said the speed and skill level is considerably higher and that on-ice decisions have to be made much quicker.
He has also had to make some adjustments off the ice, being 1,500 miles away from home and living with a host family in Corpus Christi.
“This is my first time being on my own away from home,” Monfils said. “The guys have been great. They give me a little hard time every once in awhile, but it’s nothing too bad or anything.
“This is just a great opportunity and something not everyone gets the chance to do, so I’m making the most of it.”
He hasn’t forgotten about Lourdes, either.
Currently, Monfils is working with the school to complete his classwork online so he can graduate with his class when he returns at the end of the season.
“That was important,” said Monfils, who also plans to join the Knights’ baseball team after being a key member on last year’s state tournament squad. “I’ve been at Lourdes all my high school, so it’s a nice thing I can come back and graduate with my class.
“This is a great situation and I just want to do my best and see what happens.”