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Draft day is a complete fan experience

by Matt Cubeta
Draft board. Check. Table and chairs. Check. Pizza, wings and chips. Check. Beer and soda. Check. You've got everything you need for your draft day. The only thing remaining is the actual draft itself.

Whether it's for a small league with just eight teams or an enormous 16-team league, there's nothing like draft day. You've been studying the ins and outs of every NHL team, preparing religiously as if this draft would determine your future on the planet. From the stars at the top of the depth charts to the sleepers and busts, you know you're ready for this day.

The anticipation is incredible. The thrill of seeing all your friends show up to the draft room compares with seeing your favorite team take the ice in person for the first time. The room is filled with trash talk the same way heavyweight champion Muhammad Ali would dish it out in the boxing ring. You have to try to control your excitement and stay focused on one thing: drafting the best possible fantasy hockey team.

And then it happens. The first overall pick is on the clock. The excitement slowly builds, will it be Ovechkin or Crosby, or maybe someone goes off the board and surprises the league. Without further ado, the announcement is made: "With the first overall pick of the 2010 Fantasy Hockey League Draft, Team Hat Trick selects left wing, Alex Ovechkin." The crowd goes wild.

The first round cruises, as it usually does because team owners have been preparing for their pick for months. After that, you have to start thinking a bit more. Do you reach with a goalie in the second round? Do you draft more offensive power? When do you take your first defenseman? "Don't freeze," you tell yourself. "Stay focused."

Now it's your turn. You select Carey Price with your second-round choice, a questionable pick to say the least at this point in the draft. The heckling begins -- and it doesn't stop until someone else makes a debatable selection. This is how fantasy drafts work; It's the beauty of them. Your opinions are the only things that matter on this day, there is no right or wrong … not until the 2010-11 NHL season concludes on April 10 and you're either proven genius or buffoon.

The draft continues and things start to slow down as you approach round 10, but you've stayed zoned in, making sure you grab the right sleepers in the later rounds. The group takes occasional breaks, whether it's to go grab another slice of pizza, or to step out for a little bit of fresh air -- or to tell your significant other you're going to be home later than expected. Before you know it, two hours have passed, and the only thing more spectacular than Christmas morning has sadly come and gone.

But the fun doesn't stop there. Oftentimes, the most amusing part of draft day occurs after the actual draft is completed. This is when you spend the next few hours talking about how your team is better than everyone else's, or when you try to make trades for the player that was drafted one spot ahead of your turn, or when you just sit there and laugh about how entertaining the draft was.

Regardless of whether the draft takes place in person or online, whether it's a standard snake draft or an auction draft, everyone looks forward to this day for a variety of reasons. Draft day is more than just a fantasy hockey draft. It's about tradition, rivalry, socializing and most importantly, it's about having fun. It's a day when you're able to let go and enjoy some time with your friends. It's a day when you're in charge, when you make the decisions, be they amazing or awful.

Fantasy sports keep friends in touch. Sometimes it's the only time you see some of these folks or speak to them. In other cases, it's just another reason for you to bash your friends' sports knowledge. Regardless of your reasons for playing fantasy hockey, there is nothing better than being able to talk about hockey, reminisce and hang out with your buddies like it's the good old days.
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