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Feeling a draft



Give the people in Columbus some credit. They filled Nationwide Arena and cheered at all the right times. They gave Wayne Gretzky an ovation when the Coyotes coach went to the podium to announce his team's pick. They clapped politely every time a representative from another team thanked the community for its hospitality. And they went absolutely nuts when the Blue Jackets made their first pick. It was like a power play or something as they chanted "Let's go Jackets'' before the announcement that Jakub Voracek with the No. 7 overall pick.

They even booed like crazy when the Red Wings were announced as being on the clock and punctuated that with a "Red Wings s---'' chant.

"Remember who made the playoffs,'' one Wings fan screamed.

It had no effect.

Another good one: when the Senators were called to make their pick, No. 29 overall, a fan yelled to coach and general manager Bryan Murray, "Hey, Bryan, (Sabres coach) Lindy Ruff would have kicked your butt.''

Cheers all around.

Contrast all that energy with the Lightning, which did not have a first-round pick (remember the Shane O'Brien deal). Media relations representative Jay Preble checked in with the team's brass every now and then and reported nothing was cooking on the trade front and spent time talking with Islanders media rep Chris Botta. New York did not have a first-round pick either.

The two biggest surprises were the selection of Thomas Hickey at No. 4 by the Kings and the pick of Anthony Esposito at No. 20 by the Penguins. Hickey, a defenseman, was ranked 26th among North American skaters by the NHL's Central Scouting bureau. When his name was called, he was shown on the scoreboard making his way to the podium from the stands. He looked stunned at the turn of events. Esposito, a center, was ranked eighth after scoring 27 goals with 52 assists in 60 games as a junior. His family went nuts in th stands when his name was finally called.

For the record, the No. 1 overall pick was Patrick Kane, 18, a 5-10, 160-pound RW from OHL London, picked by the Blackhawks. Kane had 62 goals and 145 points in 58 games last season. It will be interesting to see if he fills out. In fact, he'd better.

As important as the draft can be for teams, the event itself, like any other draft, can be somewhat tiring after the excitement of the first few picks and after the home team has taken its turn. Half the place must have emptied after the Blue Jackets chose. It also is a big of a logistical nightmare for reporters. Not that you care all that much but here is the glamor of our job.

When you want to interview someone, you go down to a gate that separates the team tables from the media tables and hope to catch the attention of a media rep or the person you to whom you wish to speak. This can be a challenge as the gate is about at center ice on the arena floor and some teams are located near where the end boards would be. It's kind of like a mixed zone at the Olympics, where you shout at players coming off the ice and hope they stop and talk. And if there is someone everyone wants to talk to, the crush at the gate can get tight.

This is where the Lightning distinguishes itself from many NHL teams. Tampa Bay's group of Preble, Bill Wickett and Brian Breseman is one of the league's most responsive. Need an interview? They always ask the potential subject. They subjects don't always say yes, but at least they give you a chance.

Anyway, back to what went wrong. The Internet connection. Don't know how we did this job before the Internet. Actually, we found out because the NHL's broadband connection, set up specifically for this event, could not handle the traffic and continually crashed. If you want to see grizzled hacks turn into a bunch of whiny babies, take away their Internet. 

Truly, though, the stars of the show are the players who get drafted. Hockey players in general are a pleasure to speak to. But to see these kids with smiles on their faces, eager to answer every question and speak as long as you want them to, it reminds you why you like this business. It actually can rejuvenate you.

See, this is what you get when the team you cover doesn't have a first-round pick.



[Last modified: Sunday, August 16, 2009 4:37pm]


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