Thursday, July 4, 2013

The Amateur Fan goes to the 2013 NHL Draft

The 2013 NHL Draft took place last Sunday, June 30th in New Jersey at the Prudential Center. This was my first in person – live NHL experience and I was ready to soak it all in. I had been following the draftee’s for months; I had my list of favorites and could not wait to see this event take place. I had no idea what I was in for, as I walked into this amazing facility with thousands of other fans. After choosing seats and settling in to wait for the draft to begin I was anxious and decided to walk the concourse. I collected my souvenir draft ticket and went to look at the various NHL Trophy’s. At the trophy’s with a short line was Phil Pritcher, the ‘Keeper of the Cup’ – we became quick friends. As I walked around the arena I spoke with random fans and took some pictures—there was some time to kill before the actual draft started – as the event’s start approached we found even better seats and settled in.

As the draft began there were a few speeches: Chris Christy, The Commissioner- the fans showed their appreciation or dissatisfaction with cheering and loud booing. Then, what everyone was waiting for began – the Colorado Avalanche took the stage to announce their first pick. No surprise who they picked, they had been talking about him for days prior to the draft: Nathan Makinnon, a top forward expected to go straight into the NHL. Then the Florida Panthers took the stage. Rumors were they would pick Seth Jones, the best defensive prospect to come through the rank in years, who was not expected to fall farther than the number 3 pick. The Florida Panthers stepped up to the microphone and announced their pick, the overall number 2 pick was: Alexander Barkov – a deafening silence fell over the arena. My phone started going off with shocked text messages from my friends, I assure you: everyone was surprised. Next was Tampa, who choose my favorite Jonathan Drouin, followed by Nashville who finally choose Seth Jones. The Devils, who has the 9th overall draft pick threw a cork screw and announced a trade to Vancouver. Fast forward to the 11th overall pick, Philadelphia Flyers selected Samuel Morin –standing at 6’7” he is a physical defenseman who can dominate opposing forwards in his own end, a very aggressive player and mighty fine addition to the Flyers. The first round took nearly 3 hours!!

After the first round I went back to the concourse to wait in line to get my picture with the Stanley Cup. As I waited in line I could not resist talking to the people around me. I eventually found out that the woman behind me had a nephew whom had just been drafted to the Buffalo Sabres—J.T Compher. Her name was Barbie, we became instant friends. The wait in line was maybe an hour; she told me how she got goose bumps when J.T got drafted and how she was a Chicago fan. And then J.T showed up and of course I took a picture with him. After my picture with the Stanley Cup, there were players and Coaches strolling around so I was able to snag some more photos. Meeting the coach for the Ottawa Senators, Paul MacLean was pretty amazing especially since the Sens had such a great season. Then something very memorable happened: I spotted a Flyers jersey on a draftee; you can’t really miss the bright orange of those jersey’s. There was no name on the back of the jersey, as he turned around I was asking for a photo with him. He was very tall and as soon as my eyes reached his face, my mouth dropped, it was Samuel Morin, the Philadelphia Flyers first draft pick. I will never forget what I said to him next: “Oh My GOD—I love you!” and then as soon as I got it together I managed to tell him how excited I am to see him play and welcomed him to the team. Morin turns 18 July 12th, two days after I turn 26 and I just professed my love for him – I am not sure if that is a moment he will ever remember but it makes me laugh.

I am a huge fan of brothers in the NHL: Schenn, Miller, Stall, Sedins and the Bures’. Hockey is such a family orientated sport and I love seeing brothers on the big stage. It is no surprise that I was excited to see Jordan Subban drafted. The Draft can be monotonous at times when you get past the first round and you become less and less familiar with the draftees, so I had been out walking the concourse. I had just entered the arena, this time at a lower level even closer to the floor to take in some of the 4th round. As soon as I sat down, Jordan Subban was drafted the over all #115 pick to the Vancouver Canucks. He was drafted a little later than expected but none the less very exciting to see him now following his brothers P.K and Malcolm into the spotlight. I headed back out to the concourse to hopefully get a picture with Jordan. After a good bit of a wait, P.K and Malcolm emerged with no Jordan. The only way to describe how the Subban’s and their entourage travel is to compare them to how I imagine the Kardashian’s might travel through an airport in an attempt to avoid the paparazzi – they were very fast and hard to stop for autographs or pictures but I managed to speak with Malcolm for a moment and get a picture with him right before he dashed off after P.K. I had been waiting all day to see Jordan get drafted and I was so excited for him.

The next memorable moment I had was when I met Ryan Hartman and his family, the first pick of the Chicago Blackhawks number 30 pick overall. I could tell Hartman’s parents were thrilled about their son being drafted in the first round and still taking it all in, his mom was so excited and offered to take our picture. After the picture his dad struck up conversation with me about Hartman’s dreams as a young boy and showed me an endearing photo of him. He must have only been about 4 years old dressed in a Chicago Blackhawks sweater and his dad’s hockey helmet. It was amazing to see that picture next to him, now drafted to the Blackhawks and in their official sweater.

Before coming to the Draft I had reached out the John Walton, the Voice of the Hershey Bears from 2002-2011 and now Voice of the Capitals. His wife and I work in the same circles and she had been telling my boss about how her life revolved around hockey. Knowing that my life too revolved around hockey, especially at the time since we were at the height of Stanley Cup playoffs, my boss connected me with her. I might still be learning about hockey but if there is one thing I know it is networking. I eventually friended Walton on facebook, one of my favorite networking tools and messages him about the Draft, knowing that he would probably be there. We were able to correspond and meet up at the draft. He was so kind to give him 15 minutes of his time and we talked about the Hershey Bears, the Draft, the Capitals Draftee’s. It was great conversation and then he gave me advice about the hockey industry that I will never forget. He said, ‘The hardest part is getting your foot in the door.’ After all the greatness of the day, that too was pretty great.

The day was more than I could imagine. I always tell people that I am blessed by the Hockey Gods, they truly put me at the right place, at the right times all day long. I met so many great people at the Draft and heard so many great stories from the friends and families of draftee’s and from fans. The location of the 2014 NHL Draft has been announced for Philadelphia and I am already planning to attend, if not to feel the excitement in the air then to see future hockey stars being drafted.

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