Thursday, August 25, 2011

Draft Pick Love

During the regular season all fan energy is geared to just making the playoffs. 82 games of ups and downs culminate in what amounts to two weeks of nail biting for all but 3 teams at the top and bottom. The lucky 8 make it through and experience brief elation and short relief.

The playoffs take more energy. Game 1 and Game 2 hold huge hope and anticipation no matter the results. Anyone can win in the playoffs, the mantra repeated. Game 3 and onwards things get serio9us. Elimination looms, progression attainable. The fan channels energy into every facet of the game.

In a short but very intense moment of the NHL calendar, every blocked shot, every dressing room visit, every post-game quote is taken for full analysis (and not just in Montreal). This period is all-consuming. Thoughts seldom stray to other topics, it's team all day.

But then it ends. One way or another it ends. For 15 teams, the end is abrupt and dissatisfying. Seldom do fans have more than 40 minutes to morph from undying belief to total disbelief. The energy that was generated, nurtured, stored is left without direction.

The lucky fan can dissipate it all with a single fist to wall rendez-vous. Some can transfer it all, miraculously celebrating victory every year in different stripes. Those of us that are so accursed to attach everything to one group of 23 are left with adrenaline to burn and plenty of time and space in which to do it.

The NHL entry draft

Enter the NHL entry draft, a shopping excursion for NHL teams during which scouting departments pick whole generations of hockey players clean to the bone over a single weekend.

For the unsatiated fan the entry draft provides. It provides those topsy turvy moments where worst is first and playoff vanquished are in the driver's seat.

If I remember back to a time when there was no internet and the team I followed largely left their fans with ample achievement in their bellies come June, I remember being one of a few who followed the draft. Certainly one of a few who could list the picks in later rounds.

Through a combination of pent up glory-envy and the creation of means for release of this playoff stored energy, the following for such academic interests has grown exponentially. Nowadays it seems that draft day and the days that precede it are some of the busiest days of the year for a blog like this one. Nowadays, it seems like there is as much excitement in hearing the "right" name called on a June afternoon as there is on hearing the goal siren on a cold November evening. The fervent fan of hockey games transformed into the fervent fan of hockey operations.

In a hockey game, the glasses fitted for the team one supports allows for lopsided views to become reason. Each goal for a thing of beauty, each goal against a grievous error, each penalty for an unlucky misfire, each penalty against a revelation of justice.

I am beginning to see these glasses creep into the world of hockey operations fandom. While other teams can make errors donning their silly logoed shirts, the "porteurs du Saintte Flanelle" are a thing of grace even in the offseason.

How else to explain the sudden rush of support that is bestowed on each and every name called on the day of drafting, no matter how little we knew of the 17 year olds they were a minute before?

How else to explain the gulf of affection that lies between newly added 20 year-olds and those whose names we spent summers studying up on?

My theory is exactly that. That fans with that excess of hockey-allotted energy stored from May (or April) spend it throughout a summer. With little otherwise to spend it on other than qualifying offers and stories of gym routines, those 6-10 newly adorned sweaters from mid-June take the lion's share. The hours that would be spent reading about Lars Eller's ankle wrapping in early May are channeled into hockey databases and scouting reports and reviews of those hockey operations additions.

And I think there are varying levels of energy too. I mentioned the lucky ones who can turn off in May and turn on in October. Grades must then range from people who have a few days left of itch to months worth. Those with little begin and end most likely with the Nathan Beaulieus of the world, while the next tiers spend their reserves on rounds next until they realise summer just happened.

I am hardly amazed then that each first round draft pick of the storied Montreal Canadiens instantly becomes hero. I am hardly surprised that after only a few weeks, each unknown darts to the top of lists of organizational successes.

Intriguing to me still though is how enduring this love is. How even in the face of scrutiny and trials and comparisons to peers nearly each and every first rounder maintains an aura that will be carried for years. Intriguing how one decision made in June (that probably could have gone any one of 10 different directions) is deemed right and good.

You'll know if you follow this blog that I have been a bit down recently on Jarred Tinordi. In fact, I am starting to feel like a lone critic some of the time and made to feel almost traitorous for my words. Jarred, you see was taken as the Canadiens first pick in he 2010 draft which shortly followed the exhilarating run and highly disappointing end to that season. It seems I have touched a nerve perhaps too soon. Perhaps because Jarred is (or has to be) the good that came from that season without a Cup (again).

I don't pretend to know which way is right. The fact I can let go of the hope I had for the 2010 draft just like the hope of coming back against Pronger's smothering Philadelphia might just make me lucky. Perhaps I am wrong to even wish to let go of the little nugget we picked out of the river of the 2010 season. Maybe I'm the hockey operations fan equivalent of the guy who gets his beer during the period to skip the lineups.

I don't know. All I know is first round picks is not yet on the level of missed calls for me. I probably have decades of pent-up energy left for how wrong the refs got it on Doug Gilmour's broken glass penalty. Nathan Bealieu? you have maybe 5 months...

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