A Night at the NHL Draft

I got tickets for the NHL draft not really knowing what to expect. I had never watched it. It was in the same category for me as awards shows: it’s a bunch of names getting called. Why bother with it when you just hear about what happened tomorrow? But this was going to be in Philly, and it was going to be in my favorite building and it was hockey-related, so it was kind of hard to pass up.

Right away, just pulling into the parking lot, it was different. There was a good amount of Flyers orange-and-black around, but there were a lot of other unis too. There was an overwhelming sense of completeness to it; this wasn’t a Flyers event, this was a HOCKEY event.

I went to Xfinity Live (a series of bars and restaurants for the uninitiated) first and met up with some friends to get some food. Seated at one of the tables there was Craig Berube himself along with other suits (once I recognized Chief, I didn’t bother identifying the rest because I had a good idea of who they would be so I kept walking). That was another thing that made it felt different; no way Chief would be in Xfinity Live an hour before a game.

I finally made my way to the Wells Fargo Center. I walked past the Stanley Cup and all of the other trophies in full display. I got seated and Lou Nolan, our PA announcer started to take the team roll to make sure every team was present: after each team came the standard “SUCKS!”; everyone in our division got one and boos of varying length and volume, with the Pens getting it the worst.

It was time to begin.

Gary Bettman came out. Boos. He started talking. More boos; not half-hearted boos either, real boos that could drown a man right out. I remember thinking a couple things to myself after what seemed like an eternity:

1. Wow, we’re really loud. I can barely hear him and he’s got a microphone.
2. Watching on the Jumbotron, he looks shaken. GARY BETTMAN IS VISIBLY SHAKEN.
3. I wonder how long we can keep this up?
4. All the GMs are sitting there thinking “holy hell, this what my players have to deal with when they come here.”

I wondered: what would the reception be for the draftees? I was reasonably sure we wouldn’t boo them. They hadn’t done anything to the Flyers yet. Ekblad got called to go to Florida at number 1, and there was a nice round of applause for him. Perfect! I was glad for him and the prospects; it’s a big night for them. Even when we booed their team’s staff, we applauded their pick.

With one exception.

We booed Bettman every time he told us someone was on the clock. At one point he came up to announce the James Neal deal (to Nashville for Patric Hornqvist and Nick Spaling, good riddance) and asked sheepishly “I could tell you about a trade?”

BOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!

We picked at 17. Former Flyer Sami Kapanen’s kid, Kasperi Kapanen was still on the board and falling fast. Around 14 or 15, his name started being whispered around the crowd. He’s still there. We loved his dad. We could take him! And when the pick came to us, and the LETS GO FLYERS chants started, and the Flyers highlight montage played on the big screen, I thought “why not take him?”

We didn’t. We took Travis Sanheim, a 6’3” 183-pound 18-year-old defenseman who many considered the fastest riser of the draft. The Flyers now have a stable of young defensemen growing up in the system: Haag, Morin, Sanheim, Gostisbehere, all who should help out one day.

A couple more picks went off, and then it came:

“The 22nd pick of the NHL draft goes to the Pittsburgh Penguins”

BOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!

Let’s flash back a second. It’s 2012. The Flyers have just eliminated the Penguins in one of the most embarrassing series ever. The draft is in Pittsburgh. It’s the Flyers pick. And this happens:

Earlier that night, the Hurricanes had former Flyer Rod Brind’Amour announce their pick, and he got a warm welcome. And when the Arizona Coyotes announced that one of their scouts had passed, the crowd gave them warm applause.

The Pens come out to make their selection. With them walks Rick Tocchet, who not a week ago was doing Flyers games for the Comcast network and was generally beloved in the city as a former Flyer.

He starts talking. Boos rain down. We all knew the score; it’s better to be working in the game than talking about the game. If you get an offer like that, you take it. And we as the fans reserve the right to boo you if your paycheck has a Penguin on it. It’s as simple as that.

So of course the Pens take Kapanen. Go figure. But we boo the whole time. Up to the podium, jersey on, pictures, the whole thing. Only guy it happened to. It’s only fair. Welcome to the rivalry, kid.

Quick thoughts from tonight:

– Nashville was the first team tonight to break from tradition and not thank the host city for hospitality. Hey, we didn’t make you sign that matching offer sheet for Shea Weber. You did that on your own!
– Peter Laviolette now coaches James Neal. The world is a funny place.

– The Devils picked 30th tonight because of fallout for the Kovalchuk contract cap circumvention thing. When I stop laughing about that, I’ll let you know.

– At least once tonight, Bettman said something to the effect of “you’ve still got energy?” when we were at pick 14 or 15 and still booing him. All of those favors the league does for the Flyers will disappear! Oh wait…

Overall it was a very fun night. I highly recommend going some year if you can. Maybe I’ll even watch now.

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