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Prospects get insights into dealing with life off-ice

Friday, 06.26.2009 / 3:33 PM / 2009 NHL Entry Draft

By Mike G. Morreale - NHL.com Staff Writer

MONTREAL -- Before a top prospect embarks on the next stage of his hockey career, he has to be equipped with the skills necessary to survive off the ice.

Fortunately the teenagers preparing to take that jump into the NHL were provided a glimpse of events that could become a roadblock to future success at the third annual NHL/NHLPA Pre-Draft Orientation.

The training seminar, which took place at the Le Caf Conc at the Marriott Chateau Champlain, offered 50-plus prospects a different insight into what it's like to be a professional athlete. The sole purpose was to provide this year's top prospects with a better understanding of how to make informed decisions on matters affecting their professional careers.

"We hope the kids get a lot out of this," NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly told NHL.com. "We hit on a variety of topics about what it's like to be in the NHL and what it's like to be an NHL player and represent your team."

The orientation, spearheaded by Vice President of Communications and Player Relations Jamey Horan three years ago, opened with a question and answer session with NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman and NHLPA executive director Paul Kelly. The Q&A was conducted by broadcaster Pierre McGuire, who touched upon several key topics.

"It's important for these guys to hear about the different components surrounding the League," Kelly said. "We realize it's a very busy day for them and there's a lot on their mind because they're looking ahead with great anticipation for (Friday night), but it's important to take a few minutes and listen to the professionals who can make a difference in their lives. That's how you integrate these young men into our game."

Hockey Hall of Famer Mark Messier spoke about the importance of leadership on and off the ice, as well as how to deal with the media.

"The media is a very important part of your career," Messier told the prospects. "When I got to New York, I knew it would be a pressure situation since the team hadn't won the Cup in many years. I was 30 years old at the time, and I told myself that no matter what happened, I was always going to be consistent in my interviews so that the people listening could trust you because you were consistent.

"My suggestion is to just be consistent in your approach with the media, because the media is a connection between you and the fans. You can't be one way when winning and completely opposite when losing."

Top prospect John Tavares, who could well be the No. 1 pick in the opening round when the Entry Draft gets under way at 7 p.m. at the Bell Centre, was glad the NHL and NHLPA joined forces to inform the prospects of what to expect down the road and outside the rink.

"It was pretty special to hear from Mark Messier because he's one of the best players to play the game and is considered the best leader of all time, so when he talks you definitely have his respect," Tavares said. "I think he got across the point that while it's important to enjoy it, we're also in the spotlight, so we must be careful with the way we handle situations. It was really informative in preparing us for our future."

The players were then given a 40-minute media training session by veteran sportscaster Lisa Levine. Levine created ZONE, which specializes in the art of public speaking for professional and collegiate athletes, coaches and sports executives. ZONE has worked with 16 first-round NFL draft picks over the last four years.

"There are so many questions that you want to know and so much information that you need to know," Messier told NHL.com. "The easiest part for these guys is to go on the ice and play the game. The tough part is how to conduct themselves and stay out of trouble -- who should they ask for help and who can they turn to? There are so many things you need to know to help yourself along the way and the people of the NHL and NHLPA are here to help the kids by putting a face with a name and providing someone to turn to if help is needed."

The training also included a substance abuse and behavioral health program given by Drs. Brian Shaw and Dave Lewis, who introduced the players to healthy living while stressing the importance of abstaining from substances that could cause bodily harm. It concluded with a security primer given by NHL security chief Dennis Cunningham. Cunningham discussed the risks that players face and ways in which they can protect themselves.

"These kids can't prepare for what is about to happen to them off the ice," Messier said. "It's the real world; it's a demanding world. There are a lot of people that want to help them but there are also a lot of people out there who would hurt them if given the opportunity. So just knowing those things and knowing what to expect and what to look for is a big step in the right direction."

Contact Mike Morreale at mmorreale@nhl.com