It was a National Hockey League entry draft like no other.
Fresh off the doom and gloom of a season wiped out by a lockout, the league’s teams convened at the Westin Hotel in downtown Ottawa for the 2005 entry draft. Absent were the pomp and circumstance that surround the event in its traditional arena setting, but it’s doubtful the anticipation level was ever higher.
And not just because Sidney Crosby, the hot young prospect deemed to be the game’s next great superstar, would make his official entrance into the NHL that July day. Rather, the draft offered the first tangible sign that hockey was back from a season of darkness, that the league’s best players would indeed hit the ice once more a few months later.
“The day before the draft, a lot of players went out to a park in Ottawa and we had a question and answer session with the media,” said defenceman Brian Lee, the Senators’ top pick in the 2005 draft. “There were tons of people there and you could tell the city was really excited for hockey to get back under way.
“All the guys were really excited to be out there and have a chance to get drafted, so it was great for everybody.”
The NHL held a special lottery a few weeks earlier, with the Pittsburgh Penguins earning the No. 1 pick and the right to select Crosby. The Senators wound up in the ninth slot and chose Lee, a teenager from Moorhead, Minn., who still admits the selection by Ottawa came as a big surprise.
“I thought New York was going to take me … they picked 12th,” said Lee, who’d had some conversations with the Rangers prior to the draft. “But I didn’t know Ottawa was going to take me.
“It was a pleasant surprise. We’d been out in the city for I think the entire day and the night before, just checking it out with my family and myself, and we thought it was a great city. So I was really, really excited to be picked by them.”
While Crosby was the centre of attention, Lee pointed out this was a draft filled with a raft of standout young talent. Among those selected ahead of him were forward Bobby Ryan (Anaheim), defenceman Jack Johnson (Carolina), goaltender Carey Price (Montreal) and forward Devin Setoguchi (San Jose).
One pick after Lee, the Vancouver Canucks drafted another blueliner, Luc Bourdon – the young prospect who was tragically killed in a motorcycle accident on Thursday in his home province of New Brunswick.
In the hotel environment, the atmosphere was naturally different than your typical draft.
“We were kind of like in a little ‘green room,’ ” said Lee. “The draft was out in the main meeting room and when they called your name, you left your table, went up on stage, took your pictures, then got whisked away to do the media stuff and everything else.”
Regardless of the setting, it was still a dream moment for Lee.
“It’s very special,” said Lee, who made his NHL debut against the Buffalo Sabres on March 25 – the day before his 21st birthday. “In one sense, it’s the culmination of a lot of hard work but if you look at it the other way, it’s the beginning of a lot of hard work, too, to make that step to pro hockey and to the NHL.
“So it’s nice stepping stone, for sure, along the way.”