| Burns was just happy to be at the 2003 NHL Draft Combine. The next year, he was playing in the NHL. |
If you were standing half-naked in a room last week, being told to strike various poses while a throng of people stares and takes notes, you’re either a teenager having “that” dream, or you’re one of the 150 top hockey prospects in the world at the three-day National Hockey League Draft Combine in Toronto.
Scouts have been carefully tracking the top amateur hockey players for at least the last three years, but that’s on the ice in game situations. That’s where the players are the most comfortable.
The combine gives scouts and general managers a chance to push the players out of their comfort zones to gauge their reactions and poise. Players are grilled, insulted, questioned and complemented all at the same time. They’re put through physical and mental strain as they try to find someone to give them their first shot at realizing a lifelong dream.
Wild forward-turned-defenseman-turned-forward-turned-back-to-defenseman Brent Burns went through the process in 2003. While he was thrilled to be a part of the event, it’s not something he’d be yearning to do again.
On the first day, Burns and the rest of the prospects filed into a large ballroom to be viewed by scouts, general managers and trainers.
“You’re in there with tables lining all through an inner square and an outer square,” described Burns. “All the trainers and general managers are herded into the inner square like cattle in shorts and T-shirts.”
The managers might be herded like cattle, but it’s the players who are treated like pieces of meat.
“At the first station, you’re asked to take your shirt off and do poses for 40 or 50 people who are watching,” Burns recalled. “They’re trying to see your body development, how tall you are, whether you’re in shape or not. Then, you go through all the stations where you do push-ups, bench press at a certain weight, vertical jumps, sit-ups.”
“No problem,” thought Burns. Those are the types of things he’d been doing for years as he maintained
| The pain of a hip check into the boards is nothing compared to "The Windgate." |
his fitness in order to be able to play hockey. But there is one station that no amount of training could have prepared him for. To this day, he still calls it the most excruciating drill he’s ever gone through.
“They call it the Windgate,” he said of a not-so-typical exercise bike. “You’ve got to pedal as fast as you can and get up to your maximum threshold and then they drop a weight down on the tension. You’ve got to go for one minute, and they see how fast you’re going at the start to how you’re going at the end.”
I think probably 40% of the guys are almost passing out after that. Some guys were throwing up. They’ve got trainers standing next to you and behind you, screaming in your ear, ‘Pedal! Pedal!’ You just want that minute to go and that last 10 seconds is probably the longest 10 seconds of your life.”
When day one is over, the players are physically taxed and can muster just enough energy to get up to the hotel room to collapse.
The next two days can be even more taxing as management from each team quizzes players for 10 to 15 minutes with questions ranging from hockey situations to family life. While each question is answered, the player wonders just what they are trying to get at.
You can imagine what might be going through the prospect’s mind when he’s asked to disrobe and do a jump test over a bench. Actually, maybe it’s best not to try and imagine it.
“It’s just a mental testing to see how you’ll react and how tough you are. I had no idea this stuff was going to be happening, but I had fun because I was still so amazed that I was there. I felt lucky to be in that situation and I was looking forward to meeting some of these guys that I had been watching when I grew up. I still have all the business cards of all the teams at home.”
Burns may have been in awe of some of the people he grew up watching and idolizing, but he admitted it was a bit of an eye-opener when they began questioning his toughness.
“I never really had any fights in junior, and they were calling me ‘chicken’ and ‘wuss’ saying that I was a 6-foot-5 guy that was scared to fight. What do you say to that, especially when some of these guys are players I grew up idolizing?
| The stress came to an end for Burns at this point, when he was officially a member of the Minnesota Wild. |
With the teams that interview you, you don’t know what they’re intentions are. Sometimes, you find out that the teams that were interested in you were tougher on you than the ones that were really nice.”
Of course, the team that ended up selecting Burns was the Wild, who had the 20th overall pick in the Draft. The scouting reports had him pegged as a second-rounder, while Burns thought he could go as high as 27th or 28th. He was shocked when his name was called, but he thought there was a chance that Minnesota was indeed interested in him.
“I tried to relax with my family and my agent up until draft day, when I would try and figure out where I’d be going. For some guys, it’s the best day of their lives. For others, it’s the worst, but I know I’ll never forget my draft day.”
Hearing his name ended months of speculation in his own mind about where he would end up. He had realized his dream, and this time, it wasn’t the one about standing naked in a crowded room.