by SENShobo on 06/25/09 at 08:20 PM ET
As the afternoon buzzed away today, rumours flying everywhere, there was a quieter, gentler setting for a few of the top prospects at this year’s draft. Tavares, Hedman, Duchene, Kane, Schenn, and Despres where whisked away from the luncheon to the mainland and the Canadiens’ practice rink, joining a couple dozen young and very fortunate hockey players for some practice time.
It’s the story no one might care about, but the story that I’ll take to heart anyway.
The scene of these six young men skating alongside the youth players was no great draw, only a couple dozen media in attendance, nearly all camera-toting. The crisp ice welcomed the awestruck kids, family and friends beaming from the stands, to what would certainly be a top hockey memory to cherish.
Joined by the six prospects, they were all led in a series of hockey drills, showing off their flair and watching to see what the stars of tomorrow night could do. At the end, the prospects were split Kane, Schenn, and Despres on one side, the undisputed top three on the other, and with an extra skater or two they went toe-to-toe with and against the rising stars, surely to be the role models of more and more kids down the road (for the record, team Top Three lost, 3-1).
That’s what it’s all about though, isn’t it? These six young men, and countless others back at the hotels in Montreal, and ones who will hope for a special call this weekend, they are the role models of the future. Sometimes we forget that, think that movie stars we venture out to watch at the theatres a couple times a year are the ones truly idolized, and not as much the stars we watch for dozens if not hundreds of hours a year, the ones fixed squarely in young minds as their parents drive them to early practices and home from late games.
Size, skill, speed, and steady performances are at the top of every GMs mind right now, easily spread across countless sheets of paper and computer files, but it’s not as easy to quantify, or value, the character that lies beneath. It’s character that not only helps to elevate a player or their team, but also brings in the fans, and helps to set up a new batch of energetic children to fuel future years of our game.
You could see that in the practice that took place. By the end, all the players were fully engaged in showing off their skills while feeding pucks to budding young snipers, but perhaps it was how it started that showed it best. When they first met up, prospect and pint-size, they skated around the rink with a healthy attitude but noticeable space given.
Soon enough though, Schenn was giving the kids taps on the back with his blade as they skated by, and words started to trickle back and forth among all skaters. In the drills, it took some time to warm up, but quickly you could see a noticeable determination in both Duchene and Hedman, clearly tackling each challenge as though it were coaches and not awestruck youngsters watching them, and were a crowd of scouts or psychologists there they might have picked up on even more that transpired, that can’t be measured or caught in highlight reels or post-game interviews. By the time it hit the ever-growing game of shinny, the players were feeding the kids on every breakaway, and striking the right balance between blazing by them and babying them with their skills to pump the kids full of energy and confidence.
The last time I was here, for the All-Star Game, I heard a couple gentlemen who had been around the game for years recalling how the players they used to cheer from the stands were the same ones who delivered their beer in the summer to ensure that ends would meet, who would join in games of shinny at the local pond, truly growing those idols larger than life.
We have come a long way since then, and we won’t ever go back. Still, one can only hope that we don’t lose sight of that important connection that humanizes us, allows for us to be inspired, and brings a misty eye and quivering lip to proud parents who know that all those trips and helping hands were well worth it.
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Native of Northern California. Hockey fan since 1998... sort of... there's a hiatus in there that I still can't explain.
I want to know about anything and everything related to the sport and the spectacle. I watch, I react, I write it down.
My interest in the Sharks was initially a matter of geographic convenience and regional loyalty because that seemed to be how it worked. I had no prior interest (at all-- AT ALL) in professional sports of any kind. When I met hockey, it might have set off a chain reaction of general sports fandom. It hasn't, I don't think it will. At all.
Since then, that interest developed into full blown (mostly sort of usually almost completely) exclusive loyalty to the Sharks.
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