Saturday, June 29, 2013

Welcome Back Draft Party

I've never been to the NHL Draft. Year to year, I don't know who the prospects are. I don't fully understand the Junior leagues (are they pro or semi-pro? are they cutting class in High School in order to play?). But this year, I have more interest in it than normal. This year's NHL Draft will take place in my "home" arena, where I've been a season ticket holder for the past 2 seasons. That would be enough to get me to watch the draft, where I can see how it looks inside the arena that I know so well. The Devils sweetened the pot by giving free tickets to each season ticket holder (2 of them, and allowed us to request additional tickets, of which, they gave us 2 more). So I'm going to watch the NHL Draft in person this year. I'll admit, I have no idea what to expect.

The only other time I had any real interest in the NHL Draft was in 2005. You remember 2005. That was the year with no Stanley Cup Playoffs. Long story short, there was no season in 2004-05, no playoffs, and the lockout wasn't settled until that July. The NHL draft was rescheduled for a Saturday afternoon, July 30, 2005, and it was the first event held by the NHL after the season had been cancelled.

The Devils held a "Welcome Back/Draft Party" to welcome the fans back into the good graces of the organization and of the league. It was just as it sounds. Welcome the fans back to hockey, and come watch the draft together on the big screens at Continental Airlines Arena. Of course, being the hockey-starved fan I was after a lost season, I went. And there were many many others like me who made the trip to East Rutherford on that Saturday afternoon. So many that the Devils and arena staff weren't prepared for the large crowd.

The Devils had set up the arena floor (no ice surface after a year of hockey, or just no ice surface during summer break) with different activities including floor hockey for the kids, autographs of a few players, and a podium near one goal where Stan Fischler and Ken Daneyko were talking about the draft. They also gave everyone a food voucher to use at the 2 center ice concession stands, a voucher for a free ticket to one of two early-season games, and had a hockey equipment sale set up underneath the stands. I wish I had taken a camera to this because I really don't remember all of the activities they had set up for the fans. I really didn't care. It was just good to be back in hockey.

I came in about a half hour before the draft started, and Stan Fischler was just reciting some sort of information at the podium. I really got the sense that nobody was listening to him. Ken Daneyko was with him. The Devils put the MSG Network coverage of the draft up on the big screens (MSG was showing the TSN feed from Canada, where they had real coverage, and MSG would interject their own analysis for the 3 local teams). Around the time the draft started, Stan Fischler left (he re-appeared on MSG about 30 minutes later), and Dano was left alone on the podium. Dano was still new at the TV thing, and he didn't look comfortable up there by himself. Matt Loughlin (the TV "host" of Devils telecasts at the time) arrived shortly after the draft started and took over hosting the event (not for TV, but for the fans in the arena).

This was the draft in which the Devils selected Nicklas Bergfors in the first round and Sidney Crosby was the first overall selection by the Penguins. In fact, quite a few first round selections from that year are still playing in the NHL. I remember Matt Loughlin getting Bergfors on the phone to conduct an interview for the fans in the arena.

I don't remember much else about the draft itself (I know it was conducted over 2 days, unlike this year's draft which is being squeezed into a single day). But at the arena, there were a whole lot more Devils fans than the team had expected. Food concession lines had stretched from both center ice concessions straight across the concourses, into the seating bowl, and all the way down to the playing surface. That's one sight I wish I had a picture of (I think it was before smartphones, and even my dumb phone at the time didn't have a camera). I think the Devils/arena had to call in more staff to handle the crowds.

I think they got somewhere around 8,000 people on a Saturday afternoon in late July to come watch the NHL Draft on the big screen and just be around hockey for the first time in over a year. And that was the only time I was even remotely close to the NHL Draft.

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