Evander Kane, a sure-fire top 10 pick, was all smiles at the draft combine in Toronto. (Jamie Hodgson/THN)
MONTREAL - From a fan’s standpoint, an NHL star can often seem larger than life and meeting one of them for the first time rekindles childhood memories or overwhelms with a kind of surreal moment that will never be forgotten. After seeing these guys perform on the biggest stage on TV for so many years, there’s a common disconnect that makes you wonder how real it all can be.
But in a room full of media, family, friends, NHL staffers and more, it is the 18-year-old NHL prospects who are enjoying an unbelievable and unforgettable experience.
It won’t be long until these kids become those stars and it wasn’t that long ago they were just like you and I, freezing their toes off on a backyard rink or spending all hours of the evening playing ball hockey on the street.
“My dad put a lot of effort into building an outdoor rink in our backyard,” said Scott Glennie. “It wasn’t that big, it was more for me and my brother to shoot and stuff like that, but the outdoor rink was a big thing for me I did as a kid; I spent a lot of time out there.”
Thursday at the prospects media luncheon in which the top 12 youngsters were paraded one-by-one up to the stage, accompanied by a video montage, my THN counterparts and I found ourselves sharing a table with the parents and grandparents of the Brandon Wheat Kings’ Glennie. Their excitement and pride couldn’t help but put a smile on my face and it made me think of my own parents and grandparents and what would be going through their minds if I were in that position.
No matter how big, famous or influential these kids become, they share a common thread with any hockey fan who grew up with the game.
“My dad built a rink for me and we had it for a very long time,” said Matt Duchene, the consensus No. 3 prospect behind John Tavares and Victor Hedman. “It helped me huge with my development, so it was awesome to have that and for him to put that effort into it.”
When you think back to playing on the outdoor ice or just in the street, it was a time of make believe and joy. Scoring the goal to win the Stanley Cup, making the save on a breakaway to shut down one of the game’s biggest stars and quickly shouting out who you wanted to “be” before one of your friends snagged your favorite player.
And listening to these enthusiastic, wide-eyed kids recall their days on the outdoor ice, you soon realize they’d play the same games growing up as all entrenched hockey kids did.
“We’d play 1-on-1 with a tennis ball with a guy in net or even just playing posts, or horse or anything to get a little competition,” Glennie said. “We’d get one of our friends to come over and stick him between the posts.”
For some of these prospects, they took the friendly competition to another level and that’s probably a big reason why they sit where they do today, on the cusp of being welcomed into the NHL brethren.
“With friends we played a lot of 1-on-1’s, 2-on-1’s, 1-on-3 whatever,” Duchene said. “We used to play 2-on-2 and I’d play against a couple of my buddies. I’d always kind of want them to have some kind of an advantage during the game so I’d have to work that much harder so when I won it actually meant something. I always do that; in road hockey I made sure we had one less guy.”
Even if you’re from the warmer west where outdoor ice is hard to come by, like Evander Kane, the game started with family and/or friends on the pavement playing road hockey.
“I remember going out and playing with my dad when he got home from work, sometimes until 11 at night, and playing with guys in the neighborhood all the time,” Kane said. “We’d have big full court games with older guys and younger guys. We’d play with those orange balls and when you got hit with that it’d hurt you a lot, but at the same time, it was good fun.”
While the vast majority of us left the dream-chasing behind to move onto other things, these kids are realizing aspirations they have been shooting for since they first started imagining it. It’s a day they’ll share with their family and it’s a day for all of them to soak in, be proud of and never forget.
Congratulations to this year’s crop and everyone around them.
From the road in Montreal, host Ken Campbell, writer Ryan Kennedy and web specialist Rory Boylen discuss... Which player beyond the top three of Tavares, Hedman and Duchene stands out… The number of quality players available in this years draft… Trade rumors… And offer their predictions on who will go first overall and which prospect will have the most prosperous NHL career. Producer: Ted Cooper.
Ryan Kennedy, Ken Campbell and Rory Boylen are at the 2009 NHL Draft in Montreal and each will be filing regular reports throughout the weekend.
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