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2010 Draft Experience

As with almost any experience of mine, I was running late. My flight left at 5:30 p.m. on the Thursday before the Draft. I was planning on leaving work at 4:00 p.m. as I had skipped lunch to get done early. My boss came in and put a pile of work down on my desk. No dice. Frantically I did an hour and a half’s worth of work in 20 minutes. I drove to get my dog Chanel and meet up with my dog sitter. At 4:55, right as the plane was supposed to start boarding, I hit major traffic. Insert panic attack here.

There are some people that do not believe in God, and that is their decision. I, on the otherhand, decided to pray to God that my flight would be delayed when I had first left work. It was still on time then. I pulled out my iPhone when I first hit traffic and looked up my flight status. Delayed one hour. There is a God I shrieked. I called my friend Rae and my co-everything Sara and let them know with elation.

I met my dog sitter who then dropped me off at the airport. I had to, yet again, run through the airport to my gate. When I arrived there, yet again, they had yet to start boarding. Shin splints for nothing, eh? I grabbed a snack wrap and some french fries from McDonald’s and boarded the plane. About four hours and one iPhone battery later we landed at LAX.

My friend Rae lives about five minutes away from the Staples Center and I would be staying with her. She picked me up from the airport and we went straight for Korean BBQ at Cho Sun Galbee. It was expensive but quite possibly the best Korean food I’ve ever had, and I’ve had A LOT. By that time it was 3 a.m. my time and thus time for bed.

I woke up the next day, the day of the Draft, to a sunny, humidity free morning. I had forgotten how much I missed living humidity free. My youngest cousin Ted was coming to meet me as he was in California for the summer, working at the UCLA tennis camp as a coach. By 12:30 p.m. I was en route to the Draft, not exactly sure what to expect.

When I first looked down 11th Street off of Figueroa I wasn’t sure what to expect. There seemed to be a few inflatible things but not much seemed to be happening. Slightly disappointed I went to see what was going on. The second I came to LA Live’s ‘square’ or free area I was instantly impressed. Booths for Reebok, Bauer, Easton were set up. A beer garden for those over the age of 21, slap shot contests, locker room set ups, it was a lot of fun. I walked around aimlessly waiting to meet up with my cousin and just take in the crowd. There were jerseys EVERYWHERE. It seemed there were just as many LA Kings fans as there were Edmonton Oilers fans. Oilers nation had come in full force to California to witness the rebuiling of their team during the off-season. They had jerseys, scarves, signs, and blank jerseys with the names ‘Hall’ and ‘Seguin’ on them. They would be happy with whomever they chose, and were just glad they were not in the Toronto Maple Leafs’ position.

Ted arrived and we toured the booths, got free t-shirts, had Ted try on some jerseys and then headed to ESPN Zone on the patio to take in the scene. Inside ESPN Zone there was a minimum of $10 per person per hour while the World Cup was going on. We sat down by some fellow hockey fans and got to talking about who we thought would go first. While sitting there eating lunch I see a group of suits walking by. I turn to my cousin and said, “They have to be someone important, you don’t wear a full suit in 80 degree weather unless you have to.” Then I saw a very familiar, very bald head with a distinct pair of glasses. I said a little louder than I intended to, “Is that Pierre McGuire?” He looked at me while walking by and some random fan ran up to him and shook his hand. I wanted to say, “Thanks for the drinking game Pierre!” But thought it impolite and kept my mouth shut. After lunch Ted and I started to head towards the Staples Center.

On our way in we passed many statues, the most distinct of the bunch was Wayne Gretzky in a Kings jersey. There were large groups of people dressed very smart and some nervous looking faces. I turned to my right and there was Emerson Etem with his entire family. Not a smile on his face, he looked like he was a little nervous and the reality of his future was setting in. Instead of bugging him I led the way to get in line.

We had wanted to see the Stanley Cup, but the line was about a mile long. No thank you. We instead went to find our seats. Lucky we did. We were up in the 300’s and while the seats were fine the arena was not filled as much as they had thought. Guess 20,000 people didn’t think it fun to sit inside on a beautiful day. Fine by me, I would take their better seat and be thankful. Those of us who arrived early were upgraded to the 200s, those who were in line for the Cup were not upgraded.

Our original seats we were looking right down on the TSN set. Our new seats? We were right next to the TSN set. Same distance to the stage, overall it was still better. The excitement in the Staples Center was tangible, the buzz from the media, the chatter from the fans, the instantaneous ‘Boos’ for Gary Bettman all meant one thing, it was about to get started.

This was my first draft and I was excited. The Edmonton Oilers were called up first and it was widely believed that they would draft Taylor Hall first. Regardless of the position they needed it’s been said that Hall is more NHL ready than Seguin. I’m no expert, so I just waited for the Oilers to make their choice official. It was surprising it took a little bit of time, as the Draft is as much an art of deception as war. The ‘War Rooms’ on the floor were flooding the Mainstream Media with their ‘supposed’ picks, what they needed, etc. Once Edmonton picked Hall there was no doubt who would go second. The real ‘drama’ occured once the draft hit number three.

Fowler and Forbort fell farther down than TSN predicted. Dallas went for Jack Campbell when their ‘camp’ told other teams they were looking for defense. Los Angeles traded up and skipped over the hometown kid for a defenseman. Colorado picked the guy ranked 55th when their fans thought they needed a goaltender or defenseman instead of a forward. Pittsburgh picked Beau Bennett making him the highest draft pick from California over Emerson Etem who was ranked fourth in North America for skaters. The crowd was buzzing, what the heck was going on? My mouth literally dropped when Joey Hishon was announced.

There were several cool things that happened in the first round that those in attendance got to enjoy. Special player interviews right after being drafted, pre-taped stories including tales of ‘Most Embarrassing Hockey Moment’ to ‘Favorite Goal Celebration’ and my personal favorite; ‘Favorite Most Embarrassing Song’ in which the crowd was forced (I say this lightly as I still voluntarily listen to these artists) to listen to the Backstreet Boys, N Sync, Britney Spears, and Miley Cyrus. The crowd loved the drama of the trades, and showing their support of their favorite teams. My absolute favorite moment came when the Anaheim Ducks traded to get Emerson Etem. First the trade announcement was made. The crowd cheered. Then it was announced that the Ducks were picking. The crowd boo’d. Then they announced they were taking Emerson Etem. The crowd was still booing and there was this interesting moment. It went from strong boo’s to a pause, team pride or state pride? Instantly the entire arena was cheering louder than before. It was an awesome moment to witness California’s three teams’ fans coming together to support this kid.

One of the biggest advantages to be sitting where we were was the players and their families were gathering right behind us. Taylor Hall spotted some Oilers fans and started signing their jerseys and taking pictures. He really understands that it’s the fan that keeps the league running and pushes money in to make it profitable. Just as he was about to turn around I was made aware of his presence. I shouted his name until he turned. I waved at him and pointed to my cousin Ted’s camera. He waved back and smiled. I decided to see what else I could see up there and grabbed my cousin’s camera and walked towards the back.

There were two guys in suits at the very back. I decided now’s the time to strike up a conversation. I asked them what they did and they told me they were scouts for the OHL. Asked them a few questions, specifically about my team and their thoughts on Hishon, the draft process, what the public doesn’t know. I went from being unsure of our number one draft pick to excited about him. Just as the tide had turned my cousin was shouting my name. I looked over and he was pointing behind me. I turned around and there was Joey Hishon. After calling his name a few times he realized where I was. I told him congrats and welcome to the Mile High City. He smiled, said thank you and posed for my camera.

Before the draft could end MN Mr. Hockey himself was leaning over the partition. By this time I was back in my seat and calling his name. His entire family was there smiling with him and he was happily soaking in the moment. Some say Nick Bjugstad was disappointed in not going to the Minnesota Wild, they must not know Minnesota that well. I doubt anyone would be disappointed headed for Florida when their friends and family are calling them complaining about the negative 40 wind chill or the constant gray skies from October till March. Bjugstad had a grin that reached from ear to ear and gave me a ‘thumbs up’ in the picture my cousin took.

Around 8 p.m. the first round of the Draft was complete. I spent the evening over by UCLA at In and Out Burger (FYI Animal Fries are AMAZING) and at a Hooka Bar listening to Michael Jackson music (anniversary of his death) and wondered what the next day would bring me.

I woke up the next day with jetlag in full swing. I’m 25, how is it that I travel like a 90 year old? I got dressed and ready and grabbed a cab to the Staples Center. LA Live was empty and the arena was eerily quiet. I went right away to my previous spot in section 218 and chatted with some other fans. A Kings fan kindly boo’d me when he found out my team allegiance was to the Avalanche. I kindly reminded him we had two Stanley Cups. He stopped booing quite quick. I had seen all of rounds two and three in my seats. I had decided I should try and see if anyone was over at ESPN Zone for the NHLtweetup. I had tweeted at several people to no avail.

Just as I was about to leave one of our readers Erik text messaged me. We were literally five steps away from each other as he was in line for Dustin Brown’s autograph and I was next to the line. Once they got done Erik and his friend Jimmy stood in line with me. I was the last person officially allowed to get an autograph. Dustin was very nice, cannot say enough about how much of a class act he was. Every single person that came up to him he smiled, was pleasant to and engaged in a conversation with. He not only signed personalized autographs with your name on the card, but he took multiple pictures with people. He asked about you and answered questions more than pleasantly. He definitely proved to me why he was the Kings’ Captain; I already knew he played extremely well but his off-ice poise and general demeanor earned respect.

We decided to grab some food so I got a hot dog and found out there were Icees being sold on the other side of the arena. Erik was also an Icee fan so right as he was paying who should walk out but Mark and Jarred Tinordi. I did a player profile on Jarred and he was in his Habs jersey so I asked him if I could get a picture. I put my bag down after chatting for a few minutes and stood next to him. I was barely clearing his shoulder and I was standing straight up. The kid was definitely not standing without slouch. What I loved most about Tinordi was he was enjoying it. Wearing his sweater the day after he was drafted, hanging out with his Dad, talking to fans, smiling the entire time. I can’t say for certain but I have a feeling his Dad has been grooming him for this for a long time and I can’t help but think that he told him to soak up the experience. Gained a ton of respect for Jarred, but I expected he’d be a stand up kid from his tenure as Captain for Team USA. Erik also got a picture with Jarred before we set out to find some Icees. Can only say wish I had asked for a father-son picture with myself as well.

As we were walking along I thought I spotted another player. The pale skin, the height, the curly dark hair. There was no mistaking it, I had run into another one of the players I profiled, Brock Nelson. I walked close by and and said, “Brock?” He turned and I asked for a picture. He was also very nice. His family was surrounding him and we talked Warroad, Fighting Sioux, and the State of Hockey in general. I’m glad he’s going there before heading off to New York, going from a town of less than two thousand to a state that is one of the more populated in the union is a hard transition. Plus then I can watch him at North Dakota play in the ever cool WCHA.

We grabbed our Icees and decided to sit on the right side of the stage. We walked down as close as possible to the floor. We were chatting and enjoying life when Erik told us that two rows in front of us was Bryant Marchment, former NHLer and current San Jose Sharks scout. The boys where going to ask for a picture when who should run up the stairs for a mini chat session? Why former Detroit Red Wing and current NHL VP of Business Development Brendan Shanahan. The second he was bounding up the stairs those of us in the audience paused for a second before the low hum of “Oohs” and “Ahhs” and whispering “OMG it’s Shanny” began. There weren’t that many people over there. Some of us were regular fans but most of them were wearing NHL lanyards with some sort of credential hanging around their neck or were the draftees and their families. Yet the effect was the same. It’s nice to know that player or fan, the reaction was shared. Shanahan was just THAT big of a deal. Marchment wasn’t a small fish either though, I will say the boys I was with were practically drooling at the sight of him.

When it comes to the Draftees if they are walking out or just sitting or standing around I think it acceptable to approach them. Players on the level of Brendan Shanahan are a different story. Not only was he a member of my team’s arch nemesis, but he was a hockey great and now a big wig at the NHL. His time is precious, he was there working not watching. I would not let Erik or Jimmy approach him for a picture until he was about to get up and leave the area. He was enjoying his time and enjoying his conversation, we were not going to interrupt it. After about ten to twelve minutes of catching up with his friends Shanny looked to leave. We jumped out of our seats and asked for a few pictures. Four people got pictures, and we were three of them.

I thought the excitement had ended when I realized that the boys were talking about going to get so and so’s picture. I hadn’t heard them but just followed along. All of a sudden I’m asking Tyler Seguin for a picture. Unlike some of the other draftees and even Shanahan, Seguin was quiet, non-engaging and didn’t really smile. I later heard that he was a funny kid, had great one liners and zest for life. Wish I had seen that side of him. He was polite but short. He took every picture and signed every autograph but it felt a little forced. I’m sure he’s a great kid, I’ve heard great things but I wish he had soaken in the moment and enjoyed the new fans wanting a memory instead of looking at it like people wanted a piece of him.

It seemed that would be the last of my picture taking at the Draft. Some kids were getting drafted in the fifth and sixth round and they were with their families and so happy. I definitely clapped louder for the ones who were excited. It made it easy to be excited with them. Just then the Avs second draft pick Calvin Pickard came over. I tweeted at Su Ring that he was sitting by us. He played in the WHL and she has been covering. She told me she was interviewing him later. The boys couldn’t tell who it was until I told them. They went for a picture first, I stayed put. Then they told me how nice he was. After Seguin’s cold vibe I was hesitant and embarrassed to ask for another picture. Somehow I got the courage to go and ask him for one. He was VERY nice, I was VERY impressed. He chatted and smiled and joked around. I told him a friend was interviewing him later on and we’d heard great things about him. Jokingly said maybe you can steal Budaj’s spot. He just smiled and chuckled a little. Glad to see he’s respectful of his elders/teammates before even meeting them.

I headed out to the NHLtweetup being held on the patio of ESPN Zone where there were a good chunk of people. The location was ideal and the company perfect. I’ll discuss later why you should go to a tweetup if you haven’t been before. While there Su Ring tweeted at me that she just interviewed Pickard and he mentioned me. I got even more excited for my team. It’s not easy to find great players, these scouts have been doing this for ages, but it’s always nice to see when they find the nice players too.

I spent the rest of my time relaxing in California. I won’t bore you with those non-essential details. I will say, landing at 12:30 a.m. on Monday knowing I would be jet-lagged and tired that day at work was difficult. I didn’t get home till 1:30 a.m. and I couldn’t quite quiet my mind from the great trip I had. If I have any advice for the Draft it is this.

  1. Attend if you can.
  2. Attend the second day, less people, better seats, more relaxed so you can meet more draftees/players.
  3. Attend an NHLtweetup afterwards, you meet even MORE great people.

Next year the Draft will be held in the State of Hockey. I can’t wait! It will be nice for people to come to my state and be able to recommend great places to eat, host a Tweetup, and have free lodging. Hope to see you guys here next year!

To check out all my pictures from the 2010 Draft check out our Facebook album!

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