It's almost an impossible dream. For the hundreds of thousands of children who play hockey at the grassroots level, the dream of a career in the National Hockey League is very real. Yet, there is a funnel that channels all those dreams, filtering players through ability, dedication, opportunity and timing, and allows but a select few to emerge from the other end.
On Friday and Saturday, June 20 and 21, the 2008 NHL Entry Draft took place in Ottawa at Scotiabank Place, home arena of the NHL Senators. For many, it was the emotional culmination of a lifetime of dreams. For others, an emotional lesson in humility.
The Stanley Cup arrived in Canada's capital the day before the Draft commenced. On Friday morning at 9AM, hockey's biggest prize was on display at the Prospects Breakfast, sponsored by Scotiabank and held at the Ottawa Marriott, right in the city's downtown core. It was an interesting scenario, as several of the prospects made a beeline for the Stanley Cup, anxious for a photo and a close look at the names and further fuelling dreams of the day they too might lift the Cup high over their head. But other young men upheld the superstitious belief that you don't go near the Stanley Cup until you've won it, not wanting to jeopardize any possibility of someday winning Lord Stanley's legacy at some point during their career.
|2008 NHL Entry Draft first overall draft pick Steve Stamkos dawns the Tampa Bay Lightning sweater for the first time. (Steve Poirier/HHOF)
NHL commissioner Gary Bettman spoke to the fresh-faced youngsters excited at the prospect of being welcomed to hockey's most elite level. He was followed by Richard Waugh, president and CEO of Scotiabank. The bank has invested heavily in supporting hockey, from being named the official bank of both the National Hockey League and the National Hockey League Players' Association, to purchasing the naming rights to the Senators' home rink, to sponsoring 'Hockey Night in Canada's' pre-game show.
Once the boys had adjourned for a session in media training, their parents were addressed about the concept of financial planning. It's an important consideration, as by the simple act of having their name called by an NHL team during the Entry Draft, these teenaged boys would have their lives changed forever, venturing into a world of dizzying salaries and financial windfalls.
Following the seminars, the Stanley Cup made a trip to Smyth Road, visiting hockey-loving youngsters and their families at the Children's Hospital of Eastern Ontario, Ronald McDonald House and Roger's House. The latter honours the memory of Roger Neilson, Hall of Fame NHL coach, and was instituted by the Ottawa Senators Foundation. Roger's House provides palliative care for youngsters, enhancing comfort and care as they face their health challenges.
By 3:45, the Stanley Cup was taken to Scotiabank Place, where, along with all the other NHL trophies, it was displayed prior to the 2008 NHL Entry Draft. Sitting in the concourse of the Kanata arena, the Stanley Cup was ogled and fawned at by the thousands of fans and family members of potential draftees who packed Scotiabank Place for the evening's activities.
At 6:30, the Stanley Cup was packed away so as not to distract from the glorious moments about to be experienced by 210 young men over the course of Friday evening and Saturday morning.
Shortly after 7PM, Commissioner Bettman strode to centre stage to initiate the momentous proceedings. After welcoming those assembled, as well as those following the draft on TV, radio and the internet, Mr. Bettman introduced Jay Feaster, Executive Vice President and General Manager of the Tampa Bay Lightning, who had earned the right to select first in the 2008 Draft.
|The Los Angeles Kings selected Drew Doughty with their first pick at the NHL Entry Draft in Ottawa, Ontario.
After congratulating the Detroit Red Wings on their Stanley Cup win, Feaster welcomed the new owners of the franchise, Oren Koules and Len Barrie, whose purchase of the Lightning had been approved by the NHL just the previous week. Feaster then asked Koules to announce the first selection of the 2008 NHL Entry Draft.
"Our first pick," began Koules," from the Sarnia Sting of the OHLůSteven Stamkos!"
The applause thundered through the rink, although certainly no one was surprised. Stamkos had been projected as the first overall pick through the entire 2007-08 season.
"We are extremely pleased to have Steven Stamkos in our organization," stated Lightning VP and GM Jay Feaster. "He is the consensus number one pick for a reason -- gifted offensively, committed defensively. Great hockey sense and incredible maturity set him on top of this draft class. He will look very good in a Lightning uniform for many years."
A beaming Stamkos added, "This is the ultimate dream come true for me. I'm very excited to join the Tampa Bay Lightning."
The first round, which took over three hours to complete, was rife with surprises, including a plethora of trades between teams as they jockeyed for draft position. Some players were plucked earlier than expected while others slid back from where consensus had them slotted. It was an exciting evening, and filled with life-changing moments for thirty young men and their families.
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Rounds 2 through 7 of the 2008 Draft took place on Saturday, June 21. The Stanley Cup, after its brief rest, was back on duty Saturday at 9AM, and stayed on display with the other NHL trophies until 1:00.
|Red Wings' draft picks (left to right) Max Nicastro, Thomas McCollum, and Julien Cayer joined Scotty Bowman and the Stanley Cup at Giovanni's Ristorante in Ottawa.
The scouting staff of the Detroit Red Wings celebrated en masse Saturday night. The team of talent detectives for Detroit has done an extraordinary job of uncovering prospects who have ultimately fed the parent team and helped bring home a championship. A salute to Detroit Red Wings' scouts includes Mark Howe, the team's director of pro scouting, and his team of Bob McCammon, Glenn Merkosky and Pat Verbeek; Joe McDonnell, the director of amateur scouting and his charges, Bruce Haralson, David Kolb and Mark Leach and Hakan Andersson, the director of European scouting, along with his team of Evgeni Erfilov, Vladimir Havluj and Ari Vouri. Marty Stein also assists as a part-time scout.
The collection of scouts (okay, if it's a gaggle of geese, a murder of crows and a parcel of penguins, what do you call a collection of scouts?) celebrated with a private dinner at one of Ottawa's finest Italian restaurants, Giovanni's. Joining the scouts were Ken Holland, Jim Nill, Scotty Bowman and a handful of young men just added through the draft to the Red Wings' organization.
Max Nicastro, drafted by Detroit in the third round, hails from Thousand Oaks, California, and before the weekend had arrived, went on record, saying that, in a dream situation, one of the people he'd love to have dinner with was Scotty Bowman. Max got his wish. "Hey, Nicastro," shouted one of the group. "You wanna get a picture with Scotty?" Max delayed a moment, then replied, "No, I think Scotty wants to get his picture taken with me!" An awkward silence was followed by bellowing laughter from all. "Good one, Max!"
After a marvelous dinner, some of the scouts decided to take the Stanley Cup on a tour of the city. Every Friday and Saturday evening, Fat Tuesday's features a dueling piano show, and it seemed like a logical stop for some evening entertainment. With the Stanley Cup placed on the piano, the extravaganza immediately got larger, and the scouts had a great time celebrating late into the night.
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There'll be fireworks with the Stanley Cup in Friday's Stanley Cup Journal, so get back here and hook up with us again then!
Kevin Shea is the Editor of Publications and Online Features for the Hockey Hall of Fame.
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