Life Through the Draft
There is no doubt, however, that the National Hockey League Entry Draft is the one day each year that intrigues me more than any other. That’s why Friday night and Saturday can’t get here fast enough as far as I’m concerned.
I’ve had the good fortune of covering eight of the past 11 drafts for the various radio stations I’ve worked for. The following is a selection of random recollections of draft days dating back to 1995.
1995: Northlands Coliseum, Edmonton
As the young play-by-play voice of the Kamloops Blazers at the time, I was pumped to work my first draft. And this was a big deal in the Loops. Shane Doan and Jarome Iginla had just come off their second straight Memorial Cup championships and were pegged to go in the first half of the first round.
Anticipation was high back in Kamloops (for the Blazer fans that hadn’t made the trek to the Alberta capital for the draft). I was there with the station cell phone – the technology of the day was a receiver attached to a battery pack similar in size to a car battery – ready to send my reports back to the station in Kamloops anytime a Blazer was selected. I didn’t have to wait long. Doan went seventh overall to Winnipeg and as I interviewed him under the stands in the media area, I heard the Dallas Stars select Iginla four picks later.
My most-vivid memory of that day was the fact that I missed my brother’s wedding in North Vancouver to attend the draft. In my defence, however, I bolted from the draft after the seventh round, caught a cab to the airport, hopped on a flight to Vancouver and with the one hour time difference made it to the reception just as dinner was served. I know what you’re thinking – how could you miss your brother’s wedding? A dozen years after the fact, it doesn’t seem so bad now. The marriage only lasted five years.
1996: Kiel Center, St. Louis
In a word: heat. Or perhaps two words are more like it: heat and humidity. In all my 37 years on the planet I have never experienced anything like I did for those four days in Missouri. I remember the poor draft prospects being trotted out for a meet ‘n greet with the media in the midday sun the day before the draft. They were all decked out in their brand new suits, and they all looked like they were going to melt.
Chris Phillips was one of them and I knew Chris a little from covering the Western Hockey League. He was on my connecting flight from Chicago to St. Louis on the Thursday night prior to the draft. I remember interviewing him in the baggage claim area in the St. Louis airport at 11pm to pass the time while we waited for our luggage. A few days later, I had the chance to interview him again after he went first overall to Ottawa.
1997: Mellon Arena, Pittsburgh
The flight from Vancouver to Chicago was delayed which meant catching the connecting flight to Pittsburgh was going to be tough. Eric Brewer and Scott Hannan were on that flight and I recall the three of us racing through O’Hare figuring we didn’t stand a chance to make it to the next gate. Not only did we make the plane which departed shortly after our arrival, but somehow our luggage made the connection too.
I remember staying in the same hotel many of the top prospects did, a Marriott right across the street from the Igloo. As I stood waiting for the elevator on draft day morning, the bell sounded, the doors opened and there was this shaggy-haired kid who hardly looked like a hockey player. Turns out it was a hockey player – and a darned good one, at that. It was a young Joe Thornton along with his agent at the time, Michael Barnett. Of course, a few hours later, Thornton went first overall to Boston.
1998: HSBC Arena, Buffalo
I don’t remember much about the 1998 draft, but I do remember my still one and only visit to Buffalo. I didn’t see a whole lot of the city, but I remember it being better than I had expected. I guess being there in June is considerably more palatable than being knee-deep in a mid-winter snow storm. There was no shovelling required on this trip. The 1998 draft was also where the Nashville Predators announced their choices in the expansion draft. With not much else going on in and around the draft that year, the first-look at what the Preds had to work with was a big deal at the time.
1999: Fleet Center, Boston
This was perhaps the most-memorable draft I have covered. The morning of the draft there was a huge buzz on the draft floor that something big was brewing. Sure enough, Brian Burke orchestrated the deal that landed him the 2nd and 3rd overall selections which he parlayed into Daniel and Henrik Sedin. It’s amazing to watch the rumours spread along media row when someone catches wind of a trade in the works.
Because that deal involved several teams, reporters from Tampa Bay and Chicago and Vancouver were all getting word of a deal, but everyone had a slightly different variation. Finally, it was all confirmed by Gary Bettman at the podium. That might be my favourite part of any draft day when the Commissioner steps to the microphone and utters those magic words: “I have a trade to announce.”
2000: Saddledome, Calgary
I remember the 2000 Draft as the ‘Year of the Goalie’. Mike Milbury made huge waves on draft day in Cowtown first by shipping Roberto Luongo to Florida and then by making NHL history by selecting Rick DiPietro with the first overall pick. It was also cool to see the local reaction when Atlanta made Calgary native Dany Heatley the 2nd player selected. On a personal note, I had left Kamloops after the 1999 draft, so this was a memorable draft because it was the first one I covered for a Vancouver radio station. The Canucks used their first pick that year to select Nathan Smith.
2001: Sunrise Center, Ft. Lauderdale
All I know is I’m just happy I eventually made it to this draft. My cabbie got so lost on the ride from the Fort Lauderdale airport to the hotel I was staying at. On a good day, it was a half-hour drive. This was not a good day. After about 45 minutes of him claiming he knew exactly where he was going, I finally made him pull over and ask for directions. Turned out he’d gone south instead of west and it was another half-hour to correct the damage that had been done. An hour and 15 minutes after I jumped in the cab, I was finally able to get out.
Aside from my wayward cabbie (if he’s still driving, I hope he has GPS), my lasting memory of the home of the Florida Panthers is how far out in the middle of nowhere an NHL team plays. It may have grown in the six years since I’ve been there, but back then there was a stunning arena on one side of the road and a huge shopping centre on the other – and nothing else as far as the eye could see. It was remarkable for a guy used to heading downtown to see games at the Garage.
2006: GM Place, Vancouver
Working as the draft floor reporter for NHL Radio, I had the job of interviewing the prospects and the GMs as they made their way down from the podium. It was a terrific experience to get to talk to young guys like Erik Johnson, Jordan Staal, Jonathan Toews and Phil Kessel all with a glazed look in their eyes just moments after their dreams had come true. It was also fun to talk to the likes of Wayne Gretzky, Lou Lamoriello, Bob Clark and Bob Gainey. And one of the great moments of any draft is when the home town team makes its first round selection. Last year, Michael Grabner stepped into the spotlight when the Canucks selected him 14th overall.
This year, the draft takes place at Nationwide Arena in Columbus, Ohio and I’m sure the Blue Jackets will put on a good show. Unfortunately, I won’t be there but I’ll definitely be watching. And I can hardly wait. In fact, as far as I’m concerned Friday night and Saturday morning can’t get here soon enough.
Jeff Paterson is a Team 1040 broadcaster and a regular contributor to the Georgia Straight. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org