A few days ago I had the extreme fortune of being tasked with writing a piece about "A Kings fan's view of the NHL Entry Draft." Excited amateur that I am, I cobbled together some words. I wrote, rewrote, revised and second-, third-, fourth- and fifth-guessed myself a hundred times over, but by Thursday morning I held my breath and clicked "send" to the editors here at NHL.com. By Friday, just in case I'd be anointed "the next one," or better yet, "the BEST one," I dressed in an uncomfortably dark suit (not the most comfortable form of dress in the heat of Southern California), and headed down to Staples Center armed with a handful of PDAs, recording devices, notes, laptop and a single General Admission ticket to the event. I heard nothing from the people to whom I had submitted the article -- and as my car circled the arena, my ego planned its reluctant re-entry to Earth by way of Staples Center.
During a solid hour of waiting for the doors to open, I worked on my tan and checked multiple email accounts for word from on high that I could bypass the crowds and just go to the press gate -- where perhaps hair, makeup and a teleprompter would be awaiting my arrival. Jolted back to reality, I loosened my tie, removed my suit jacket, finally passed through the metal detector and raced for a seat. Of course, no one told the ushers within the arena which seats we General Admission folk could sit in. With still more than an hour to go before the draft was to begin, and having spent about 45 minutes in my seat, I was politely informed that the section I was in was reserved for players and their families, and that I would have to move. I looked around and saw that all of the seats I should have been in to begin with were now taken, so I begrudgingly grabbed an empty seat somewhere seemingly halfway to Pacoima, and grumbled to myself about the glare coming off Pierre McGuire's head as the television lights shone in my general direction.
Irony of ironies, I was seated not too far from what I consider to be a prime location for watching the Kings shoot twice at Staples -- and diametrically opposite my season seat, where I marvel at Drew Doughty and his skill set in the defensive zone for two periods at each Kings home game. Moments later, my friends Tom Darcy and J.J. Blair found and "rescued me," as both of them had VIP General Admission tickets -- and so, just before the start of the draft we relocated to a much better viewing area and settled in for the next four hours as the future became the present. I was uncharacteristically at peace with my mere-mortal status, and the initial round of the draft unfolded with many twists and turns, but little of the trade fanfare we had come to expect, and love on television. Also, within the arena, we felt a distinct separation anxiety from not hearing the aforementioned Pierre McGuire, and his cohort, Bob McKenzie, as they would alternately praise and rail, and have us agreeing, disagreeing, laughing and crying with their analysis. Instead, it was just our notes -- and speculations. My great revelation at 55 years old was that in the past I was pretty sure I knew something going into the draft. Now I was equally sure I knew little to nothing as each pick was revealed. As I said before, the future was becoming the present, and all my past knowledge was truly availing me nothing. I sat in a state of confusion trying to get into the heads of the men making the selections, but without our expert television analysts doing their best talking head routines, I felt lost. I went home having spent more than seven hours involved in Day One of the NHL Entry Draft and could do nothing but slump in front of the television and re-watch most of what I had seen, but comforted by the dialogue that had eluded my earlier.
Most of my friends who had attended Day One were clearly not up for the much less glamorous Day Two. When I arrived at the arena, just moments before the Edmonton Oilers would make a decidedly less newsworthy first selection in the second round, I located a couple of Kings die-hards, Michael Wojtowicz and Scott Loudon, sitting in one of the previous day's unavailable sections and grabbed a seat behind them. I looked to the heavens and saw that for Day Two, the upper deck was closed. Today we were truly among the most hardcore fans, along with a spate of draftees, their families, friends, agents, and of course, the media. Somewhere late in the second round I received an email from my contact at NHL.com, apologizing for the delay in responding, and telling me that yes, my article would run -- and would I be interested in doing a second piece as a follow-up at the conclusion of the Entry Draft? Suddenly the past was the past and the present was a gift (that's why they call it the present, right?) My thoughts turned to the future, and what entertaining subject I could choose to wrap up the draft. Great, 15 minutes after I became a hockey writer, I had writer's block.
First, I grabbed a quick conversation with one of the Kings PR people I knew, Mike Kalinowski. Mike is in his fifth season in Los Angeles, having been summoned from the team's AHL affiliate in Manchester, N.H., a city I love to frequent when the NHL schedule takes Olympic-sized breaks, or the postseason might continue after my Kings season ticket expires. I hurried down the aisle after spotting Mike, talked about a few things, like the differences between California and New Hampshire, the American League and the National League, Stanley and Calder… I still wasn't feeling it.
I looked up at the giant board behind E.J. McGuire, and saw a couple dozen player names already associated with the fourth round of the draft, and the names and logos of the teams that comprise our glorious NHL. J. Blain, S. Brittain, B. Gallacher, B. Archibald, S. Silas, and so on, I stared at the future. Having surrendered to the idea that I no longer believed I knew very much, I could no longer pass immediate judgment on whether Edmonton, Florida, Columbus, Colorado or any of the subsequent teams were adding an integral piece to the puzzle or merely a brief footnote to the League database.
My mind told me "play to your strengths," a phrase that has served me well for almost 40 years in the music industry, but now it feels as if my strengths have seemingly landed squarely in the past. I was reminded that, decades prior, I had witnessed late-round draft picks like former New Haven Nighthawks scoring machine Bernie Nicholls (1980, No. 73) deposit four behind some faceless AHL goaltender, or a spectacular end-to-end rush resulting in a Kings goal from an NHL rookie named Robert Lang (1990, No. 133) .
Yes, my instincts were always pretty good, or at least as good as they were while performing my "day job," correctly identifying and subsequently being involved with talent like Barenaked Ladies (1991, Sire Records) or 3 Doors Down (1999, Universal Records.) I pondered the notion that perhaps the music industry paralleled the hockey world in its identification of up and coming talent. At the start of this year's Entry Draft, so many articles, blog pieces, radio and television clips heralded the year of the Californian, and one of the first pieces of advice a friend offered me was, "do not talk about Californians and their future in the NHL!" So, I thought about how, in my musical
world, we spend every waking hour looking for the next Katy Perry, Kesha, Nickelback or the next Justin Bieber (God help us if I contribute to a bumper crop of sound-alikes!)
In summation, I submit to you that my good friend and former co-worker, Tom Derr lives in suburban Pennsylvania. He and his wife Crystal have a 16-year-old son, Dallas, who plays right wing for a prep school in New Jersey. In a couple of weeks, he will actually be competing in a tournament just outside of Philadelphia. His team (Encore Hockey 1993;) is made up of a bunch of kids from "all over the place," including Texas, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, California and Southern Ontario. I've known Dallas since he was 2 or 3, but I have yet to see him play. I do, however, rely heavily on years of e-mailed photos and scouting reports filed by his proud papa, and I have faith that come 2013, wherever the NHL Entry Draft is held, there's a reasonable chance that the flavor of the month could include that middle round run on New Jersey prep school kids and that I might be smiling as the "D. DERR" card magically appears on that giant NHL draft board. You see, once again, the future will become the present for one of 210 kids who have the chance to shed their suit jackets and don an NHL jersey for the very first time. Are you listening, Devils?