Munn Practices Basics On Defense

By Tris Wykes
The Virginian Pilot

NORFOLK, Va. – The motto at Munn’s General Store in Maymont, Saskatchewan, was, “If We Don’t Have It, You Don’t Need It.î

Although the building was just 30 feet wide and 60 feet long, its three aisles were crammed with hardware, produce, groceries and farm equipment.

Such variety came with brand sacrifices, however, Norfolk Admirals defenseman Steve Munn recalled this week.

“We didn’t have eight different types of oatmeal, just the one,” Munn said. “We didn’t have 30 flavors of soup. Probably just chicken noodle, tomato, cream of mushroom and beef broccoli.”For 26 years, that family store provided the basics to a farming town of 150 people with no stoplights and one paved road. This season, Munn has given the Admirals much of the same. You won’t find a more basic defender than Munn, who has no goals and six assists. But the fourth-year pro and AHL rookie has appeared in a team-high 65 games and is rated a plus-14, second-best among Admirals.If you want someone to spearhead the rush, thread a dangerous pass or crank up a big shot, Munn’s not your man. But if you’re desperate to hold a one-goal lead and want a rearguard who won’t falter under attack, No. 3 had better be on the ice.Munn doesn’t seem particularly imposing, even at 6-foot-2 and 215 pounds. But the 27-year-old has made an art form of disrupting passes, shots and set plays with a stick, a skate, a shin pad.”He’s always in your back pocket,” Norfolk forward Shawn Thornton said.Munn wasn’t foremost in the thoughts of Al MacIsaac last summer when the Admirals’ general manager compiled his training-camp roster. But a minor leaguer backed out, and several youngsters ticketed for Hampton Roads made the parent Chicago Blackhawks instead. Suddenly, Norfolk needed to bolster its blue line and offered Munn a tryout.Enter new Admirals coach Mike Haviland, who had won two ECHL titles in the previous three seasons with Munn on board. Haviland had recruited the defender out of NCAA Division I hockey at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in upstate New York and believed he could jump to the AHL.MacIsaac came to believe soon enough, signing Munn for the season less than two months into the campaign. The transaction didn’t garner much attention, just like the man involved.”At the end of the game, if somebody asks you how No. 3 played, you’d normally say you didn’t even see him,” MacIsaac said. “And that’s the answer you want to hear.”You want to hear it because it means that Munn made smart passes to break his team out of its end. That he didn’t lose track of his man and helped cover for his partner’s mistakes.Munn may not scare teams, but he rarely if ever beats his own club.”Not everybody has to have unbelievable skill, and I’ve been lucky to have coaches who have recognized that a defensive defenseman is an asset,” said Munn, who has a management degree with a finance concentration from RPI. “I’m never going to make ‘SportsCenter’ but the guys respect unselfish play.”Munn learned to chip in with grunt work in Maymont, about an hour northwest of Saskatoon, where he and 12 classmates graduated from high school and where volleyball was the only sport offered. When Munn wasn’t setting and spiking or playing junior hockey 30 miles away, he was often unloading trucks at the family store.He might carry in a bucket of bolts on one trip, buckets of ice cream the next. Maybe water-softening products or a case of cereal on another haul.Munn’s father once convinced his toddler son that if the boy pushed his own nose, it made the conveyor belt run at the checkout register.Once he entered school, Munn would return from the tiny library next door loaded with books. He’d dump a couple of large bags of flour in an aisle and sprawl atop them to read.”People would wheel their carts around me,’ Munn said. “They knew me and didn’t mind.”AHL forwards have become increasingly familiar with Munn, but it’s rarely been easy getting past him.”There are guys who could play in the AHL if they would only realize they’re not Bobby Orr,” MacIsaac said. “I have a lot of respect for a player like Steve Munn who knows his limitations.”It’s basic hockey from a basic guy.