No hockey was played, but the Bell Centre in Montreal was full nonetheless last weekend. (Photo by Richard Wolowicz/Getty Images)
MONTREAL - So I’m here at the 2009 NHL Entry Draft (there’s an Exit Draft as well?). It’s my first time at the event, which says a lot about how lax NHL security has become.
For those of you unaware or just plain stupid, the draft is akin to a cattle auction minus the bidding, the ear tags and the subsequent slaughter (at least with the early picks; seventh-rounders are on their own).
I’m wrangled in with the journalists, writers, broadcasters, pundits, bloggers and others with faces destined for deskwork. I’m seated near big media hitters like Damien Cox, Tim Panaccio, Ken Campbell and a wobbly Lyle Richardson, who appears inebriated (he’s wearing the slip cover off a beige couch). Sadly, the Denver Post’s Adrian Dater reigned victorious over our marathon thumb-wrestling match, although I am appealing the “special” Colorado rules.
The area has rows and rows of tiered seating, reminiscent of an old Roman assembly. I did manage to fight the incredible urge to throw “thumbs down” a number of times to some very questionable selections until finally it got the best of me in Round 3 when I yelled, “off with his head” at (another) idiotic move by the Phoenix Coyotes. I’m not headed to Arizona any time soon.
Commissioner Gary Bettman began the festivities with a hearty welcome and a solo on the bagpipes (he seems more a saxophone guy to me) eventually segueing into the tangible drama of who’s about to pick whom for whom (or “who;” who knows).
Each team at the draft has a mammoth-sized table (imagine if the Waltons were corporate); a collection of suits, 65 phones and, curiously, one kid dressed in a team jersey. I assumed this youngster was the NHL’s feeble attempt at mimicking that ancient soccer ritual where six-year-olds enter the stadium awkwardly holding hands with unkempt Uruguayan strikers (a move that ends up looking more like mandated community service). In reality, these NHL kids are runners/slaves with the sole responsibility of keeping each team fully stocked up with a myriad of beverages, food and other stuff.
The Bell Centre or Centre Bell (French-speaking LC readers, I did this for you) is packed. The NHL Media Relations department tell me it’s a sellout crowd, however it’s technically more of a freeout crowd, as the tickets aren’t for sale. The upper level is filled with rabid hockey fans of all sorts and the occasional Sherpa.
In actuality, tickets were for sale, in that nebulous “secondary” market thing where you end up bartering with some dude with an expired visa and a serious infestation of back hair. People were reportedly willing to pay upwards of $100 for the privilege of watching some guy hold a microphone and neither sing, nor tell a decent joke.
Despite nothing happening here that even remotely resembles a hockey game, there is a palpable tension in the room. People routinely boo draft picks, which has me thinking either the distaste between rivals knows no bounds or these fans simply hate teenagers.
The whole event is spread across two days. The first night is all the pomp and pageantry – the stuff you see on TV – with the second day being a lot less formal (pants are optional).
Curiously the commissioner is nowhere to be seen on Day 2. It’s kind of like a reverse concert where the headliner opens, but then passes the mic to the Kenny G cover band. In this case, the second banana role is played by Director of Central Scouting E.J. McGuire, who seems likable, but has the stage presence of a (friendly) carp.
As the draft winds down, you can’t help but feel a little melancholy; sad that all the majestic elegance has dwindled down to this: sad the buffet is closing, sad that I didn’t get drafted (again).
In an attempt to liven things up I yell, “Hey, there’s Jim Balsillie!” But no one looks (except the commissioner, suddenly in view and now striking some sort of martial arts defensive manoeuvre).
Now it’s only me, a security guard and a straggler looking for the bus stop. Not a thumb wrestler in the bunch of them.
Evidently time for me to go.
The preceding was purely fictional and meant for entertainment purposes only. By entertainment, we mean we hope you laughed while reading it, framing it, or burning it. Any similarities between this and actual events is strictly coincidental and frankly, dumb luck. Remember to remind your lawyer about the made-up part, OK?
Charlie Teljeur, creator of THN's hockeysockpuppettheatre cartoon, brings you Loose Change every second Tuesday through to June 22. Subscribe to The Hockey News today to have Charlie's cartoon delivered to you in each issue.
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