I could sit here and tell you about what the rundown of this year’s NHL Draft was and what I think about all the picks, trades and acquisitions, but I’m not going to. There’s plenty of that floating around out there for you to check out. To read this might help, but to experience the draft firsthand is nothing like seeing it on TV. As familiar as the setting might be, there’s an environmental element that sets it apart from any other NHL game or event. Before I go on, I have to add a special and very enthusiastic thank you to Suzanne Grove and the Grove family for giving me a ticket to the draft. The offer was extremely unexpected and even more generous. Suzanne is a writer for Sauce Hockey and recently just started a position with the new team out in Johnstown, PA. I’ll have all of her links and information below. Check her out on the Sauce Hockey site and make sure to tweet her some congratulations on her new position over in Slap Shot town.
The NHL draft truly is one of the most unique experiences that surrounds the league. As a spectator, the preparation and steps taken between being at home and getting to your seats are all the same. There’s some extra bells and whistles along the way for fans to enjoy and win prizes, much like the Winter Classic, but mostly its all the same. Parking is always an interesting obstacle; it separates the veterans from the green bloods. Approaching the arena, crowds of people are crossing the street, breaking all traffic laws while conversing about something related to the event, be it knowledgeable or no. Approaching the gate, everyone is pulling out their ticket from whatever was conjured up to safeguard it from being lost before they got in the building. That process is usually paired with hiding something they’re trying to sneak in as well. Getting inside, as per usual, the crowd is full of people wearing their team’s jerseys and colors. People are eating overpriced arena food. Very few are seen without having a beer in hand (myself included). That anxious buzz for “game time” fills the air. I always get there super early, but eventually being in your seat equates to being a part of a sea of excited humans, more than ready for the event to begin. Here’s me and my ticket before anyone had made their way into the arena. (notice the price on the ticket)
So everything thus far is pretty much exactly like every game I’ve ever been to… except the arena floor. While we’re all used to seeing a pearl white sheet of ice surrounded by boards, benches and boxes, in it’s place, a massive boardroom was constructed with a huge presentation stage positioned in the front. To me, the floor looked more like the pit of the New York Stock Exchange than anything related to hockey. A long table with ten or more chairs a piece is set up for every team. Their logos are stationed as upraised centerpieces so the spectators can make out where each organization is sitting. Everyone is wearing suits, so it’s not quite as easy to figure out who anyone is since they aren’t wearing their uniforms or any team colors. The commotion between tables and the movement of people walking from place to place resembled videos you would find on Animal Planet, when they show sped up time-laps videos of insects moving about inside their hives or nests. It’s all very overwhelming to watch and almost nerve wracking not being able to know what deals are being proposed, shot down or accepted. You can see the GM’s get up and walk to other tables and its such an emotionless exchange. All straight-faced business and strategy that always ends in a handshake no matter what the outcome. There’s no way to ever know whats taking place. You eventually get to know the accepted trades, but can you imagine all the proposed deals that get shot down? Oh to be a fly on the wall for those exchanges. My first picture above should give you an idea what the room is like. It seems best described as organized chaos. Here’s a couple pictures from my iPod Touch of the night getting underway.
The draft holds a much wider assortment of fans since it isn’t localized around two teams going head to head. There were fans from all over the United States, Canada and even overseas, in attendance. Being that it was held in the City of Champions, Pittsburgh possessed an overwhelming presence in the room (as should be the case anywhere on the planet if you ask me). It was interesting to hear who all received the levels of cheers and jeers through the evening. I think there are four total teams I have to mention when it comes to this topic. Obviously the Pens since they’re our team, but the reason I mention them is because of the Flyers. The Pens had some loud cheering going on and thats the way it should be, but the boos for the Flyers far outweighed the volume of the Pens cheers. The entire arena, fans from every team in the NHL were on their feet and boo-ing as loud as they could. If you haven’t seen the video from their first round pick, here it is. The video doesn’t do it the same justice as being in the room, but pay attention to the crowd’s dedication.
Basically, the entire world, as far as hockey is concerned, hates the Flyers. I never realized how collectively intelligent the world really was until that moment. Good job world. I also have to point out that when the Kings were called out, everyone was extremely classy about it and cheered them on. As they should. The Kings won the hardest trophy there is to win on the planet. Respect and credit should always be given where respect and credit is due. Lastly, when the Blues were announced, probably the funniest crowd reaction I’ve ever experienced, took place. The place went silent. Crickets. It seemed like nobody could tell if they were good guys or bad guys and clearly there were no fans in the audience since nobody cheered. I couldn’t help but laugh. It seemed like a moment of silence for fallen soldiers. It stood out to me in such a big way, I had to make mention of it. Think about how many people there were in that arena… not one of them spoke up one way or the other.
The most repetitive question I’ve received about the draft was, “what was the place like when they announced the Staal trade?” Here’s my account of the situation. I was sitting in the audience with my beer in hand, studying the prospects and scanning the draft order of the teams. Since the news that Staal had turned down the Pens 10 year/$60 million offer, I immediately had the gut feeling that our days with Jordan in a Penguins sweater were numbered. Carolina was listed as number 8 in the draft selection list. At the close of the 7th selection, my stomach was in knots. Without even announcing Carolina’s turn, Gary Bettman takes the podium and says something along the lines of, “We have a trade to announce… and for those of you in the building, you’ll be particularly interested.” The room lit up. Everyone knew Staal was about to have his trade deal announced. There were no boos. None that I could hear. Only cheers. The fans, on Staal’s wedding day no less, were genuinely excited to see Staal get what he wanted, despite whether or not it was what we wanted for the Penguins. It was touching. I had heard some talk that there were some souring relationships between Staal and Pens management, but it seemed that this deal was made because this is what Jordan wanted for his family. Sure there’s some business involved… but it was overwhelmingly based on family. Definitely more so than any other deal I’ve ever heard of. To me, as a guy that’s way into his family, that’s a noble cause and Staal gets a Knight’s solute from The Jedi.
The Staal trade announcement was made and the entire place seemed to be in good spirits over it. The Pens took the stage and made their pick and the crowd seemed to have some mixed signals on why the Shero picked a defenseman instead of restacking our offense. I had heard tons of rumors about the Pens stacking up the defense and goalie position, which they did, and I wasn’t shocked about it.
I polished off the remainder of my beer and needed a refill. When I got to the top of the steps, I realized an unusual amount of people seemed to be up and walking around. In hindsight, I should have realized that most of these people were from out of town and probably just scoping out the arena, as any sports tourist would. I grabbed a beer and started my trek to see what was going on and why there seemed to be lines forming. Here’s some photo documentation of what I came across. (small shout out to my alma mater)
Clearly my curiosity played in my favor. If I hadn’t gone strolling around, I never would’ve seen the Stanley Cup or any of the other hockey trophies that were on display. Event better, I had timed it perfectly to be back before the Flyers were up for their first round selection, which also meant I didn’t miss any of the action from the Pens either. The crazy Flyers boo session occurred, which easily must have equated to the most unwelcoming welcome into the NHL ever in NHL history. That’s the video I have posted above. The Pens made their selection and picked up a 6’2 Finnish defensemen, which also had the crowd clamoring again. It seemed they all assumed we would get a good, young winger this round and not another defender. Again, I wasn’t shocked. The rest of the teams took their picks and the day came to a close. The Penguins were definitely the team in the spotlight when it came to trade action and excitement. Many people had left after the Penguins’ selection, which is foolish if you’re not trying to miss any trade action. In theory, a trade could be made with the Penguins during any and every selection turn.
The tickets are good for both days of the draft, so I needed to link up with Suzanne to return it to her. I usually stay a little longer in the arena anyway so it wasn’t a big deal to me. It’s a always an interesting feeling to be in a place that big, when it is close to being emptied out. It gave me a little bit of time to sit back and absorb everything I had experienced. I was sitting so close to the prospects and their families, I could’ve gotten up and celebrated with them. I could literally see the families’ tears of joy or looks of building nerves and frustration. The dynamic of the crowd was so different from anything I have ever experienced. All the fans were dressed like fans and all the prospects and families walking by you were dressed in their sharpest suits and fashionable dresses. Every hockey trophy you could ever want to see was there all under one roof. Lord Stanley was back in the city he belongs. It’s an experience all serious hockey fans should witness in person. Here’s a view of the floor after most of the venue cleared out.
Like I said before, I can’t thank Suzanne and her family enough. The night was awesome and definitely not one to forget. Check out Suzanne’s articles on Sauce Hockey and hit her up on twitter. Don’t forget to congratulate her on her new job!!!
Sauce Hockey: http://www.saucehockey.com/dailysauce/