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Prospects mentally, physically exhausted following combine

by Aaron Vickers / Calgary Flames

I think it’s been like all the hard work’s over. Nothing you can change now. I think I’m happy with the way everything went. I had a lot of fun with it. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience. I was told to enjoy it and have fun and I think I did that, for sure.Chase De Leo

TORONTO, ON -- The NHL Scouting Combine didn’t hesitate to leave members of the 2014 NHL Draft class exhausted.

Whether it be four days of intrusive interviews or being put through the physical rigors for over an hour on the combine’s finale Saturday, those hoping to hear their names called on June 27th and 28th left Toronto trying to catch their breath.

But which was harder -- the marathon of interviews or the sprint through the fitness-testing?

“Well, it’s hard to say,” said Conner Bleackley of the Red Deer Rebels shortly after wrapping up the VO2 Max, which measures the endurance capability of a player's heart, lungs and muscles.

“Obviously the mental grind of having an interview and having half an hour off and not really any time to do anything in between was tough. The interviews were good. I think it’s something I’m stronger at in terms of being a people person. The fitness testing was good, too. Obviously it’s over now and the other stuff was four days. It’s hard to say which was tougher.

"But they’re both tough.”

It was a split decision for consensus top pick Leon Draisaitl of the Prince Albert Raiders, too.

“The physical stuff is definitely exhausting,” said Draisaitl, Central Scouting’s fourth-ranked North American skater. “The biking is really tough. It’s a tough part. Even the days before you have a lot of interviews. They take 20 minutes and you have so many and some guys have even more.

“It’s definitely exhausting.”

In all, 109 prospects were put through the paces in physical testing, which followed 96 hours of the interview process.

Six of the 117 at the combine had medical exemptions, including Calgary Hitmen forward Jake Virtanen. Virtanen underwent shoulder surgery and is expected to be sidelined from 4-6 months. Boston College goaltender Thatcher Demko also missed the fitness-testing portion after was forced to leave the combine due to illness, while Kevin Fiala, Central Scouting’s third ranked European skater, declined testing.

And for those remaining prospects who were pushed, it wasn’t difficult to sort out which station was the toughest to endure.

“I’d say the Windgate was worst,” said Spruce Grove Saints defenceman Brandon Hickey, who also met with 16 teams over the course of the interview process. “Just the power you have to put out in that 30 seconds is unbelievable. That was definitely the hardest one.

“With about 10 seconds left you shut it all out. You’re just focused on the next pedal. I puked a little bit, definitely.”

Still, love for the VO2 Max wasn’t far behind.

It had a special place in the heart of Portland Winterhawks forward Chase De Leo, too.

“I was dreading that since I got the invite, pretty much,” said De Leo, whose effort at the combine was the first attempt he’s ever had at the exercise. “I’ve been dreading the bike. I think it went well. I think all the guys did well, too. I had a lot of fun but I’m glad it’s over with.

“Obviously our season just ended. I didn’t get much time to train or practice. I just came in and just did everything until I couldn’t push anymore.”

In the grand scheme of things, though, De Leo admitted that the experience was worth the effort.

The heavy lifting is now done, and it's time to relax leading into draft day.

“I think it’s been like all the hard work’s over,” he said. “Nothing you can change now. I think I’m happy with the way everything went. I had a lot of fun with it. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience. I was told to enjoy it and have fun and I think I did that, for sure.”

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