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Flames prospects know stresses of Combine experience

by Aaron Vickers / Calgary Flames

CALGARY, AB -- It hasn’t been that long ago that Calgary Flames prospect Hunter Shinkaruk has forgotten.

Standing behind a black curtain.

Waiting to jump on a stationary bike.

Nervous looks on the faces of his peers waiting to do the same to his left.

Sweat-covered exhausted expressions of those who just completed what he was about to struggle through on to his right.

All in the name of the NHL Draft Combine.

“You’re just one after another going through it,” said Shinkaruk, who went through the experience before being drafted in the first round (No. 24) of the 2014 NHL Draft by the Vancouver Canucks.

“I remember walking into the room with so many scouts there with the tightest shirt and no sleeves. It’s intimidating. There’s so many people watching what you do.

“You get to the bikes and you’re in that back room with just curtains and you have guys that are just dying that have already done it or guys that are nervous because they haven’t done it yet. It’s a different experience. It’s tough to put into words all the emotions you go through.

“But it was a cool experience. You dream of going to that. It was a fun experience.”

Members of the 2016 NHL Draft class have descended on First Niagara Center and HarborCenter in Buffalo to experience the 2016 NHL Draft Combine.

The combine runs from May 30-June 4 with individual team interviews and fitness testing.

“It’s a very intimidating process,” said Flames prospect Morgan Klimchuk, who was selected four picks after Shinkaruk. “You know going through the draft process that it’s a pretty big event and pretty big week. I remember going there and not really knowing what to expect. You hear a lot of good stories and a lot of horror stories about things that go on that make you nervous.

“The interviews aren’t bad ...t hey’re more mentally taxing. You’ve got to be aware of what’s going on because they do ask some pretty tough questions. They bring a lot out of you that you don’t usually go through on a day-to-day basis.

“The physical testing isn’t much easier. You see the videos of guys that push themselves as hard as they can because ultimately you’re trying to get a job and get drafted. It’s different exertions."

The majority of the 114 invitees in 2016 will be put through the paces through 12 fitness tests, including grip strength, standing long jump, bench press and pull-ups. There’s also a Functional Movement Screen, VO2 max tests to measures a player’s endurance, and the Wingate Cycle Ergometer, which measures a player’s explosiveness.

Interviews do an equal job of testing players mentally.

Klimchuk remembers meeting with “28 or 29 teams” for interviews at the combine. Shinkaruk met with 22.

Some will meet with 30 teams during the week-long event.

It’s a different kind of taxing, suggested Shinkaruk.

“It’s intimidating,” he said. “They ask questions and you want to be yourself, but you also want to make sure that you’re put together and you don’t really know how to go about it. Some teams were worse than others. I remember one team they had guys sitting behind you, too, so you don’t know where to look. There’s so many things … some of the questions too … it’s pretty tough.

“One of the teams asked me … they were kind of kidding but I didn’t know … they wanted me to say all their names again. There were 10 of them. I had no idea. That was so hard, but they were laughing at the end. They didn’t really expect me to be able to do it. Right when they asked, I was a little bit nervous because I knew I couldn’t say too many of them.”

Still, it’s an experience.

One Shinkaruk hasn’t forgotten.

One, in hindsight, he’s proud to have gone through.

And one, he hopes, doesn't go underappreciated by those who participate.

“It’s tough to put into words all the emotions you go through,” Shinkaruk said. “At the end of the day you work hard to be able to get invited to that. It’s pretty cool to go. Just have fun. You work so hard to get invited to that, to have the opportunity to get drafted.

“You’re only going to go through it once. It’s definitely some tough days, but you’ve got to enjoy it because you did put in all the work to get there. It’s an experience not too many kids get to have.”

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