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D. Leo Monahan, Boston sports reporter and columnist, dies at 86

Leo Monahan, shown with Bruins Derek Sanderson and Ken Hodge in 1970, covered hockey in Boston for years.
Leo Monahan, shown with Bruins Derek Sanderson and Ken Hodge in 1970, covered hockey in Boston for years.

D. Leo Monahan started covering the Bruins for Boston newspapers six decades ago, when the Original Six franchises made up the NHL, and although he spent days and nights traveling with the players during the season, he saw his role as staying a step away.

“I was never a house writer,” Mr. Monahan told The Record of Kitchener, Ontario, in 1993. “You know, one of those guys who was a publicity agent for the team he covered. I wrote what I thought. I wrote some zingers in my time.”

He also wrote some of the most memorable sentences celebrating his favorite team and Bobby Orr, the player he loved best.

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After watching a particularly impressive play in 1974, he wrote in the Boston Herald American: “Bobby Orr – there’s that name again – scored a super-sensationaltremendous-marvelous-boy-look-at-that! shorthanded and unassisted, at 1:24 of the second period.”

Mr. Monahan, who was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame’s media section in 1986, died Wednesday in his Belmont home of complications of Parkinson’s disease. He was 86.

“With all due respect to Globe men such as Tom Fitzgerald and Hall of Famer Fran Rosa, to the hockey world D. Leo Monahan was Boston’s hockey authority for 30 years,” said retired Globe sports columnist Bob Ryan. “His deep love for the sport resonated in every sentence and paragraph. He was a very strong personality, for sure, and extremely opinionated, especially on the subject of Robert G.Orr. Woe be to he who dare suggest that Number 4 was not the greatest of them all.”

Mr. Monahan began his newspaper career at 14, working a 20-hour weekend shift as an office boy at the Daily Record, and was already a reporter by the time he was in Boston College. He graduated in 1950 and spent three decades as a reporter and columnist for the Daily Record, the Record American, and the Herald American, which merged through the years into the Boston Herald.

Mr. Monahan often recounted a story about an older reporter who once told him “to always remember who you work for,” said his daughter Gail of Belmont. “It wasn’t for the team, it wasn’t for the players, and it wasn’t for the coaches. You worked for the people who bought the paper.”

She said “the highest compliment you could give him was that he was a good newspaperman. He never wanted to be called a journalist by any means. That was too fancy a name. He said if you were called that, people would think you were putting on the dog.”

“He was a great hockey man,” said Ed Sandford, a former Bruins captain.

Reporters traveled with hockey teams by train decades ago, and on overnight trips young writers were assigned to sleep in the top berths. Bruins Hall of Fame center Milt Schmidt recalled a trip when “Leo was in the berth above me and I was down below.”

“Throughout the night, he told me, he didn’t move for fear he would do something that would keep me awake,” Schmidt said.

Although the two became friends, “he was fair, and he didn’t interrupt his writing with our friendship,” Schmidt said. “He was great. There was no doubt about that.”

Daniel Leo Monahan grew up in South Boston, the older of two brothers who both became hockey writers. His brother, Bob, who covered college hockey for the Globe for many years, died in 2007.

He shared a first name with his father and went by Leo to avoid confusion. When he started writing, he adopted “D. Leo” to separate his byline from reporters with similar names. If hockey fans asked what D stood for, he replied: “Dazzling.”

His father, a printer at the Boston Evening Transcript, died when Mr. Monahan was 11. Young Leo got a paper route and three years later was earning $7.50 for his 20-hour shifts at the Daily Record, his daughter said. At 17, he enlisted in the US Navy for two years and then went to Boston College on the GI Bill.

In 1947, he met Stella Frechette at a dance in Harvard Square. Everyone he asked to dance declined, and he was ready to leave when he saw her sitting by the door with friends.

“He decided he was going to go over and ask her to dance and if she refused, he was going right out that door and going home,” his daughter said.

Instead, they danced, he walked her home afterward, and they started dating. He told her they could marry as soon as he had a staff job. He became a full-time reporter after graduating from BC in 1950, and they married later that year.

“It was kind of a mixed marriage at the time,” their daughter said. “She was French Canadian from Cambridge, and he was from Southie and Irish.”

In December 1980, Mr. Monahan became sports information director at the University of Massachusetts Boston and was the school’s public information director before retiring in the mid-1990s.

He also spent many years as a Boston correspondent for Sports Illustrated, penned a column for the Sporting News, and co-wrote with Lynn Patrick the instructional book “Let’s Play Hockey!”

Mr. Monahan’s wife died in October 2000, a few weeks shy of their 50th anniversary. Their daughter Stella LeDoux had died a few weeks earlier.

“He taught us to get through this horrible grief,” Gail said. “He said, ‘You get up every day, you put one foot in front of the other, and you keep moving. You don’t dwell on sad stuff. They would want you to be happy.’ We thought, ‘If this man with this illness and this grief can go on and find joy in life, how can we not?’ He was such a good example.”

In addition to his daughter Gail, he leaves two other daughters, Rita Monahan-Earley of Arlington and Mary Reed of Fort Worth; four grandchildren; and five great-grandchildren.

A funeral Mass will be said at 10 a.m. Tuesday in Sacred Heart Church in Watertown. Burial will be in St. Patrick’s Cemetery in Watertown.

Mr. Monahan “was a wonderful father,” Gail said, and his nephew Bob Jr. of South Boston recalled that he had “the kind of laugh that when you hear it, everybody laughs. I can almost hear his laugh now.”

He kept writing until about a decade ago and “always used a manual typewriter,” said his daughter, who added that Mr. Monahan often spoke of his aversion to electric typewriters and computers.

“He would say, ‘I’m never going to touch those,’ ” she said. “But he wasn’t a hunt-and-peck typist. He was a touch typist. Fast. We would go to sleep to the sound of his typewriter, with the bell.”

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