Over the weekend I had the privilege of covering the NHL Draft for the team I work for (Muskegon Lumberjacks) and the league it plays in (the United States Hockey League, a Tier I junior circuit).
While the top story for those entities was the number of team and league-affiliated players who heard their names called – those numbers being five and 48 – there were other tidbits from the two-day draft that might interest the City of Champions audience:
- The first thing that stands out from the first round was the Jordan Staal trade. Just a few minutes after an unseen fan screamed “Staal to Toronto!!” from his lower-bowl seat, general manager Ray Shero turned in the paperwork to commissioner Gary Bettman, who announced the home team’s big deal prior to Carolina’s scheduled eighth-overall selection. It seemed the lively Friday night crowd was hungry for action any way they could get it, as most
in attendance erupted at the news that the longtime fan favorite would no longer be wearing black and Vegas gold. Perhaps the reports of Staal’s declining to sign a 10-year extension soured some on big No. 11, but the raucous scene was instructive on the fickle nature of modern fandom.
- If you weren’t watching on TV (and judging from the ratings, you may not have been), you missed out on experiencing the Penguins-related drama, but I was more interested in how the fans in the building responded to the event. I wouldn’t have imagined that being present for the NHL Draft would be a particularly electrifying experience for most folks, but there was a noticeable buzz all night long at CONSOL. The energy in the arena was a tribute to area hockey fans and how much they have fallen for the game.
- Seeing Craig Patrick walk around the arena floor in front of me was surreal. The current special assistant to the Columbus Blue Jackets’ hockey operations department must have paused for reflection at some point this weekend, as he toiled across the street from where his longtime former “office” Mellon Arena once proudly stood. Sure, it’s a new era in Pittsburgh hockey, but Patrick should always be welcome at the home of the Penguins, no matter where it is.
- My favorite part of CONSOL Energy Center’s seating bowl is its intimacy, with the upper-deck fairly hanging over the ice instead of hanging back like many buildings. Apparently the architects saved all the space for the “backstage” areas, as I can attest since I lost my way multiple times over the course of about 12 hours. The final time I stumbled about, I wandered into the vicinity of the Penguins’ dressing room. I may or may not have snapped a photo of the team’s official “razor board.” Being an NHL player is living the good life.
- Just as striking as the cheers for the Staal trade and any Penguins pick were the boos for any mention of Philadelphia over the weekend. I literally couldn’t hear a word Flyers GM Paul Holmgren said when he ironically thanked Pittsburgh for its “hospitality” and announced the team’s first-round selection. Also receiving catcalls Friday night: Washington, Montreal and the New York Rangers. I missed the Islanders’ choice so I wouldn’t be surprised if they drew ire, too.
- The Tribune-Review’s Rob Rossi may have spent the majority of Friday evening scurrying around like he was on bath salts, but the hardest-working man in Pittsburgh media was his usual calm self. Steve Mears, who just completed a lengthy tour with the NHL Network during the Stanley Cup Playoffs, was stationed in the interview area along with radio color man (and former Lumberjack) Phil Bourque, broadcasting during the entire four-hour first round. Check him out on Penguins Radio 24/7, because I have a feeling he will be going permanently national before too long.
For someone like me who isn’t accustomed to it, the sea of media-related humanity that accompanies a major sporting event can easily overwhelm. There’s so much to absorb that you perpetually feel like you’re missing something that’s going on across the room.
Despite my relative inexperience amidst the chaos, I hope you got something out of this brief look behind the curtain. Overall, what I’ll take from the 2012 NHL Draft is how much Pittsburgh has embraced hockey and everything that goes along with it.