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In the middle of what's perhaps the most important week of his life, Austin Osmanski is following his daily routine on a Tuesday afternoon at HARBORCENTER. He arrived here at 8 a.m., skated for a few hours with the Academy of Hockey and then stuck around a while after to work out.
Now it's 2 p.m., his usual quitting time, and he's looking out a window onto Canalside. People are lined up down Main St., awaiting a concert headlined by alternative rap duo Twenty One Pilots set for later at night. Thursday will see another concert, rap group Public Enemy, and then the waterfront will switch gears to host one of hockey's major weekends.
All of this – HARBORCENTER, the ability to skate and workout and go watch a concert all in same area – is very different from the downtown Buffalo that Osmanski grew up with. It's also what precipitated the chance for Buffalo to play host to the 2016 NHL Draft, and for Osmanski – just maybe – to hear his named called in his hometown.
"Being able to play in the NHL, people say it's a one-in-a-million chance and, you know, it really is," he says. "But you think about getting drafted into the NHL, you can't even dream of being in the host city because of the timing."
For Osmanski, the timing gets even better. While he worked out, he received a text from his friend Stephen Dhillon asking to shoot pucks the following morning at Holiday Twin Rinks in Cheektowaga. Dhillon and Osmanski have been "best buds" since their days growing up playing for the Buffalo Regals. This also happens to be Dhillon's draft week.
This friendship, and this timing, is important in a week like this. Osmanski and Dhillon aren’t the blue chip, can't-miss prospects you read about in the days, months, year prior to the Draft. Osmanski, a defenseman, is ranked No. 135 among North American skaters by NHL Central Scouting; Dhillon is the No. 22-ranked goaltender.
Both have met with multiple NHL teams, but it's no certainty they'll be drafted come Saturday. At the very least, they're able to deal with that uncertainty together. They text on a daily basis and share their feelings about what's to come.
"We both have the same feeling: a little nervous, a little excited," Dhillon said. "It's nice, you can share your feelings with most people but most people don’t know what you're going through."
They were teammates at two different stops, first with the Regals and then with the Buffalo Jr. Sabres. Osmanski calls playing for the Jr. Sabres and having the HARBORCENTER facilities at his exposal the reason he's where he is today. Then Dhillon left to play for the Niagara IceDogs of the Ontario Hockey League, and he convinced Osmanski to join him in the OHL one year later.
Suddenly, the two were opponents. Osmanski scored 10 points (2+8) in his first season with the Mississauga Steelheads; Dhillon posted a 2.69 goals-against average and a .908 save percentage in 24 games is his second season with Niagara.
Osmanski describes himself as a "defensive defenseman." He's 6-feet-4-inches tall and has long reach. As he puts it, he won't be showing up on the top plays of the week, but he'll make his living from making sure the opponents' best forwards don’t either.
Dhillon is another big body, also 6-feet-4-inches tall, which is useful in net. But his best strength lies in his mental toughness and his ability to read plays. He's also showed discipline off the ice, having been the recipient of the Ivan Tennant Memorial Award as the OHL's top academic high school student.
Someday, after hockey, that academic prowess might come in handy. But for now, the plan is still to play in the NHL. Osmanski will be at the Draft on Friday, if only to watch Steelheads teammates like Alex Nylander and Michael McLeod be selected in the first round. Osmanski and Dhillon will both be in attendance on Saturday for rounds 2-7, hoping for the best but knowing it's not the end regardless of what happens.
"One day is not going to define your career," Dhillon said. "What's great is that if it doesn’t happen, it's not the end of the world … Sometimes they miss you your first year, you get Drafted your second year or you sign as a free agent. I think there's a lot of hope."
Osmanski gets chills at the thought alone of being drafted in the same building he'd go watch Sabres games with his dad as a kid. The first year he was allowed to check, he said, he began to wear the No. 36 for Patrick Kaleta - he saw the way Kaleta would skate around hitting guys and, well, he liked to hit guys too. He still wears that number today.
Dhillon, too, grew up a Sabres fan. He remembers going out on the ice for a shootout with Sabretooth as a young kid, his fondest memory at the arena. He also was lucky enough to grow up in the same neighborhood where players like Tim Connolly, Ryan Miller and Tyler Myers lived.
"We'd come home and we'd see them, wishing that one day maybe we could be like them," Dhillon said. "I guess there's still a little chance that we could."