Once upon a time, Cody Ceci was a giddy, wide-eyed youngster who couldn't believe his good fortune.
"I wasn't really thinking down the road (at a National Hockey League career) just yet," he said of that day back in 2004, when a 10-year-old Ceci — then a Cumberland Barons atom player — rubbed shoulders with some of his biggest hockey heroes during the annual Sens Skills competition. "I was just playing and enjoying it. Now when I look back at it, I see how great of an opportunity it was and how much fun I really did have and how lucky I was to actually go out there and do that.
"It was so loud. I'd never experienced anything like that."
Get used to it now, Cody.
The hometown boy is staying home to continue living his hockey dream. The Senators made sure of that Friday night, making the Ottawa 67's blueliner the No. 15 pick of the opening round at the 2012 NHL Draft. The Orleans native also became the first player from the capital's Ontario Hockey League team to be selected in the first round by the Senators. Ceci's teammate, Shane Prince, was a second-rounder a year ago.
"I grew up going to a lot of 67’s games and just getting a chance to play on that stage in front of a home crowd was special for me and now, getting a chance to do it at the (NHL) level ... that would be something else," said Ceci, who never stopped smiling as he met with the media while sitting in his new Senators jersey. "I couldn’t really describe the feeling. It probably would be the greatest feeling in my life, just stepping out there for the first time. But right now, I’m just happy to get drafted by my hometown team and I’ll try to make the most of it."
The selection was also a huge hit with the army of 35 Ceci supporters, a group of friends and family — including his parents, Parri and Karen, sister Chelsea and brother Cole — who made the trip from Ottawa for the draft.
"My mom was really excited when she knew I wasn’t moving far away from home," said Ceci. "She likes me at home, I guess. Getting to stay here for major junior was special, and special for her. To get a chance to stay here now in the National Hockey League is something else. It’s really cool for me and my whole family ... I'm sure all my buddies back home are going crazy right now."
Senators general manager Bryan Murray, a native of nearby Shawville, Que., was happy to make it happen for the Ceci clan and a defenceman who should have a big NHL future in Ottawa.
"He told me his mother was more happy than anybody because he didn't have to leave home," said Murray. "Any local young man who has a chance to play for the hometown NHL team has got to be happy and proud. The many friends that he has and many family members that he has in the city will benefit, too."
Though he still has junior eligibility, the Senators aren't ruling out the prospect of Ceci making the jump to the NHL.
"There’s room for anybody who can play the game at a high level," said Murray. "Like any other young person, they come in, they get a chance and they determine whether they make it or not by their play. If he’s good enough in training camp and going forward, we’ll give him that look. It’s hard for a defenceman, we know that ... but we’ve got lots of room. We just need good players to fill the room."
|As a 10-year-old Cumberland Barons atom player, Cody Ceci took part in the annual Sens Skills competition in 2004 at Scotiabank Place (Ottawa Senators Hockey Club photo). |
The Senators were stunned to still see Ceci's name on the board when their turn to pick came up. Murray and his staff believed the 6-2, 207-pound blueliner with a cannon of a shot would be gone somewhere within the top 10 selections — eight of which were defenceman, an NHL draft record. Heading into the draft, Ceci was ranked No. 6 among North American skaters by NHL Central Scoutings — a rise of 10 slots since mid-season.
"We had him rated much higher (than 15)," Murray told TSN. "We kept sitting there and waiting and couldn't believe he lasted past 10. I know it's a cliche to say you were surprised, but we were very pleased that Cody was there. He's the type of defenceman we think this game is leaning toward more often now.
"With him and (Norris Trophy winner Erik) Karlsson on our team going forward, we should score goals off the back end."
Indeed, of all the Canadian Hockey League defencemen eligible for this draft, Ceci ranked first in scoring with 17 goals and 60 points in his third season with the 67's. He was clearly born with athletic genes — Ceci's father is a former Canadian Football League player with the Calgary Stampeders, while his mother was a competitive figure skater who taught Cody how to skate.
The selection of Ceci by the 67's also figures to resonate loudly with the hockey community in Ottawa at all levels. Murray believes his story provides inspiration for even the youngest of minor hockey players in the capital, adding it's important for the Senators to show local talent that their biggest dreams are indeed possible.
"I just feel so many good players are developed in the Ottawa area," said Murray. "It's a great influence in minor hockey and I think it's a great message to young players in Ottawa, that if you are a good player, we will certainly look at you as a candidate (to play for) the Senators. These people become big role models. They stay in Ottawa for a long time and they have a big influence on young people and the fans in the city."
The Senators have been a big part of Ceci's life for as long as he can remember. Receiving Sens tickets as a youngster for Christmas one year, he said, "was the best thing ever. Getting those tickets ... I just remember it being my best gift, and it was only in my stocking."
And then there was Sens Skills, when he recalls Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson breaking his stick and giving him the shaft of it to keep as a souvenir. He also still has the jersey and socks he wore that day.
"It would be cool if any of them actually remember me (from that day), but I doubt it," said a grinning Ceci, who will give it his best shot at making the Senators next season but will see plenty of Scotiabank Place no matter what — the 67's are playing the next two seasons in Kanata with the Ottawa Civic Centre undergoing renovations.
Ceci is the fourth 67's player ever drafted by the 67's, following in the footsteps of Prince (2011, second round, 61st overall), Corey Cowick (2009, sixth round, 160) and Will Colbert (2003, seventh round, 228).
The 2012 draft wraps up on Saturday with Rounds 2-7. The Senators own two third-round selections (76th and 82nd overall), along with one each in the fourth (106), fifth (136), sixth (166) and seventh (196) rounds.