Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Who Knew? The Draft is Kind of Fun

So the ByWard Market area where our hotel was located is pretty cool. It's a little village full of shops and restaurants, all within easy walking distance. There are lots of street musicians - Saturday seemed to be violin day which was lovely - and it all makes for a nice, relaxed atmosphere. It's absolutely the perfect environment to surround an arena.

Unfortunately, Scotiabank Place is way the heck on the other side of town. Schnookie and Pookie have some lovely pictures of the surrounding area but it's pretty much dropped in the middle of a huge field. I guess it's really not that different than Ralph Wilson Stadium being in Orchard Park instead of in Buffalo proper but it still seemed very weird. When we go to Sabres games we park on a little side street (for free), walk to a restaurant, walk to the arena, walk back to the car and leave the city on a little back road without hitting any traffic. You would not be able to do that here. Even more perplexing is that there's absolutely not signage indicating where the arena is. When we got to the end of the exit there was a sign that directed you to the local Playhouse along with some kind of community center, but it made no mention of the professional sports arena that's only a couple of miles away. Not very helpful.

I haven't been to very many NHL arenas - counting this one I've been to three - and I don't really take note of how it looks unless it's either really ugly or really beautiful and Scotiabank isn't really either. It's very cement-y. Otherwise all I really noticed is that it needs a little updating.

I hate the slug more than anyone but I don't think it's going away any time soon, Ottawa.

I do really like the huge player photos on the outside of the arena but after some thought I decided I prefer the team photo at HSBC. Let's face it, when whomever was in charge of such things sat down to decide which four players should represent the franchise it would be quite a while before the name "Henrik Tallinder" came up in the conversation.

When we entered the arena we were all given programs that included a diagram of where all the teams were located. There were no section markings on the diagram however - very helpful, NHL - so we just jumped in the shortest line. (This was when the great Daniel Alfredsson defacement took place and while we were all laughing uproariously I think the Ottawa fan directly behind us was a bit frightened.) Luck was on our side - well, my side at least - because the Sabres table was almost directly beneath us. Each table was designated by a little picture of the team logo. I guess that way if someone wanders away and either can't remember where he's been sitting all day or can't recognize a single member of his draft team, he can just look for the team logo. It was very wedding reception-y.

We were in pretty much the same spot on Saturday but in the lower bowl instead of the 300s.

I'll admit it, I was really expecting the draft itself to be super boring. Watching players I don't know stand up and hug people over and over just didn't seem that stimulating. I wasn't counting on there being so much other stuff to look at however.

Granted, it might not be something that would appeal to everyone but I'm really fascinated by the behind-the-scenes side of sports. I watch hockey because I love the game first and foremost but I'd love to listen to contract negotiations and budget meetings. I'd love to know how much management values everyone on the current roster - who they'd be willing to part with, who they consider untouchable. Along those same lines, I'd love to sit in on scouting meetings. I think it would be really interesting to know what pushes one kid over another when the team is drafting in the sixth round. Even though I couldn't hear what anyone at the table was saying, I thought it was really interesting to watch them and how they interacted with each other and who did the talking and who did the listening. Every time I realized Darcy was on the phone or had walked away from the table (sometimes I saw him get up, sometimes I didn't) I announced to everyone around me, "Darcy's on the phone!" or "Darcy isn't at the table!" which I'm sure they were thrilled about. I probably saw the now infamous "You write down your name and I'll write down my name" swap with L.A. without realizing it. (When Tyler Myers is a big star I'll definitely tell people I saw it. I was seated so close to the table that I heard them count to three and flip over their pieces of paper! They both whooped and hollered when they realized they wanted different players! It was awesome!)

The Sabres scouting team checks Top Shelf for the latest updates. (photo courtesy of Pookie and Schnookie)

I think I might have mentioned before that I kind of like Darcy Regier but even for me, watching him at the draft was a bit of a revelation. The only time the public ever sees Darcy is during press conferences. I'm not convinced he likes that aspect of the job in the best of circumstances but considering how tumultuous most of the press conferences in the last calendar year have been, we've mostly seen a very stressed out Darcy Regier. John Vogl said this on Sabres Edge but Darcy seemed to be completely in his element at the draft. He was very pleasant and friendly with everyone he crossed paths with and even when the Sabres were on the clock he appeared to be comfortable and relaxed, sometimes talking a lot, sometimes sitting back and taking in what everyone else was saying. On both days the draftees eventually make their way to the team tables to meet and shake hands with everyone from the team and Darcy seemed genuinely happy for every kid the Sabres drafted. At that moment you have no idea if the kid is going to be Jason Pominville or Artem Kriukov. He's just a kid who's really thrilled to have taken the first major step toward his dream of playing in the NHL. I thought it was really sweet that Darcy seemed as excited for them as they were for themselves. In that moment I'd have no problem believing that he loves being a GM in the NHL.

Look, Darcy smiles! (photo courtesy of Pookie and Schnookie)

Other interesting things about the draft that I'm just going to throw at you in no particular order because I've lost all thread of making this organized:

Each team had a young boy or girl acting as a runner. The kid basically did any number of errands: handed out water bottles, pulled reports off the printers at the front of the room, passed notes from table to table. ("Do you want a speedy Russian winger or an oft-concussed center? Check yes or no.") Some of the kids had names on their jerseys that clearly labeled them as benefactors of nepotism - the Islanders had two runners, Wang and Guerin - but the Sabres runner (one of the smaller kids and very cute) didn't have a name on his back so I don't know if he belonged to someone or if he was NHL-assigned. He spent a lot of time in the corner of the table where Lindy Ruff and James Patrick were sitting so Meg and I wondered if he belonged to Jeep, but neither of us was sure he even had kids although I'm pretty sure he does. Meg and I had quite a lengthy discussion about this.

Tampa Bay's runner passing out print-outs he just grabbed off the printer.

If teams haven't made up their minds within the 3 minute limit they can elect to use a 5 minute time-out. That seems absurd to me. Why set a limit if you're not going to abide by it? And apparently each team has FIVE time-outs each draft. They seem pretty rare though. We bailed after the fifth round on day two but at that point only two teams - the Caps and the Sabres - needed the extra time. I don't remember the exact wording the emcee used but it was something along the lines of, "Buffalo, I need your selection or you'll enter time-out." For someone who has pretty much always worked with kids it sounded very much like Darcy was going to have to sit in the corner and think about what he'd done until the Sabres next pick.

Okay, so the Sabres team was not actually reading Top Shelf. I know, you totally bought that, didn't you? The guy in the corner of the table we could see was clearly watching video footage of a couple of different players. The thing that really cracked me up however is that when the Sabres entered the time-out on the second day, the team started watching the video in fast forward. I imagine the poor kid they selected is going to get to prospect camp and everyone is going to stand around saying, "He looked so much faster in his footage."

On Saturday, boxed lunches were passed out to everyone on the floor. As far as we could tell, lunch consisted of baggies of carrot sticks, wrapped sandwiches, and possibly bananas. The emcee informed everyone that lunch was on the way and asked them to please enjoy lunch without letting proceedings slow down too much. The funny thing is, I think it did actually slow down a little while people were eating.

There were a couple of boisterous guys on the other side of the arena who would occasionally let out with a "LET'S GO BUFF-A-LO!" Toward the end of the night on Friday I started returning the chant though not nearly as loudly as they were. I'm not very boisterous like that and I'd already gotten a bit of a "Miiiiller!" jeer from a little group behind me (because Ottawa fans are really the ones in the best position to be jeering any opponents' goalie situation) and I didn't want to get into anything. Someone eventually took offense though because the chanting went like this:


By that point we were all punchy enough to find this very amusing.

Meg, Schnookie, Pookie (back) and Alix (front) enjoy the proceedings.

As interesting as I found the whole draft experience, I think it's more than fair to say that the good company helped. I've met Pookie and Schnookie before but it was the first time I'd ever met Patty, Meg, or Alix and I continue to be amazed by how representative people's blogs often are of their real-life personalities. I don't really have a good handle on how others perceive my blog* so I don't know if there are any similarities to it and my personality but after reading their writing for all these months and chatting with them online, I really did feel like I'd already met all of them. For the record, Meg and I are both Sabres fans, Pookie and Schnookie are Devils fans, Alix roots for the Canucks, and Patty loves the Stars so we were quite a motley crew of NHL fandom which I think is really cool. Hockey blogging is the bomb diggity.

*The exception to this is that I know everyone thinks I'm long-winded which, looking around here, is tough to argue. Patty and Meg flew into Buffalo and I drove them to and from Ottawa and Patty was reminding us on Sunday that even after we got back home she had a long night ahead of her because she still had to fly to Atlanta and then to Dallas. When she complained that we'd all be done writing multiple posts before she even got home, Meg reminded her that I'm so long-winded that I'd actually probably only be halfway through my first post. And at one point Pookie referred to the blowhards in the group and I'm pretty sure she gestured in my direction. They seemed to say it with some affection however so I'm going to choose to take it that way :P

A few more random photos and stories tomorrow. Gotta get to bed now


Meg said...

I announced to everyone around me, "Darcy's on the phone!" or "Darcy isn't at the table!" which I'm sure they were thrilled about.

Well I can't speak for anyone else but I appreciated it. :D

I think your blog seems very representative of your real-life personality. It was amazing to me how familiar everyone seemed even though I'd never met them before.

BTW, I think you're pictures came out really nicely--you can totally tell how we had a good view of that Sabres laptop!

Anne said...

I bet Lindy was IMing Jeep across the table, making fun of Bettman.

Pookie said...

I think your blog seems very representative of your real-life personality.

I agree!

Jennifer said...

I would never have pegged you as long-winded. You seem like such a quiet, shy person, never having much to say. (Ha!)

Love the post!

amy said...

That is such a cute picture of Meg, alix and the -Ookies.

alix said...

Nice summary :) And I agree about Top Shelf being very " real life you". I was a tiny bit nervous when I was flying to Ottawa to meet all of you, but I didn't need to be. It really was just IPB in 3d/real life.

Patty (in Dallas) said...

We were just joking about you being long-winded! I hardly have room to talk. Although I did a lot of it over the weekend!

Great recap! I think I might just link to yours instead of writing my own. :P

Patty (in Dallas) said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Heather B. said...

I think your blog seems very representative of your real-life personality.

I agree!

Smart, articulate, and always, always right about everything? I certain can't argue with that... (Okay, maybe I do have a little blowhard in me :P)

And Patty, it's okay, I'm totally long-winded. In retrospect it's very funny that one of my concerns about starting a hockey blog was that I wouldn't have enough to say. (Get to writing, young lady!)

Anne, either that or they were playing solitaire. I think the Ookies also decided at some point that Lou was talking to his wife. They have to pass all that time somehow, you know?