Our series of little stories on the mechanics of draft day continues…
At the Islanders draft table in 1997, I had an old hockey bag stuffed with two jerseys and about two dozen Velcro nameplates. The Islanders had the fourth and fifth overall picks that year and smart money was on Joe Thornton going to Boston at 1, followed by Patrick Marleau to San Jose with the second pick.
Like all the teams, the Islanders make up a jersey for each first round pick with a velcro strip over the number on the back. I would get from the NYI chief scout the names of all the players it was even remotely possible the Islanders could pick. They would never admit it to me, but it was always understood they provided more names than we needed because they didn’t ever want the jersey manufacturer to leak out our potential draftees.
So in ’97, I had more than enough nameplates for the two high first round picks. I recall HOSSA was in the mix, as were MARA, SAMSONOV, BOYNTON, FERENCE and many others.
After Thornton went first, Marleau second and Olli Jokinen went to LA with the No. 3 pick, it was showtime for me and my colleague in PR. We were first told to secretively affix the LUONGO velcro strip to the back of the jersey for the No. 4 pick, making Roberto the highest drafted goalie at the time. (Now this is why I went to Nassau CC and La Salle!).
There was a brief delay before then chief scout Gord Clark (now with the Rangers) gave us instructions for the jersey for the No. 5 overall pick. There apparently were some dicussions with Calgary (pick 6) and Tampa Bay (pick 7). With time running out on the clock, Gordie gave me the green light for BREWER and the Islanders locked in two very fine young hockey players.
A mini-legend was started later that night, where they all are created on draft weekend – at the hotel bar. Somebody told someone who told someone else that Calgary decided not to give up a third round draft pick to the Islanders to move from No. 6 to No. 5 because they saw me and my colleague with the LUONGO and BREWER nameplates out. What a total crock of BS. Why am I so sure? Because, although I was 32 years old at the time, I went completely under the draft table to open the bag and affix the nameplates. The jerseys never came out from under the table until Gordie and the Islanders scouts made their way to the podium.
There was also the omen in 2005 that it wasn’t in the cards for the Islanders’ first round pick. The day before the draft, the velcro nameplates arrived in my hotel room. Sifting through them, I noticed one was wrong: O’MARA. I called the Islanders’ chief scout at the time and said, “I don’t have to worry about this one, right? There’s no way a Team Canada gold medal-winning center is still gonna be there at pick 15.”
I was asked to see if I could get a replacement, just in case. Thanks to our equipment staff, they whipped one up and the nameplate arrived the morning of the draft. Ryan O’Marra was drafted 15th overall by the Islanders, messed up his ankle in his second training camp, was included in the Ryan Smyth trade and scored 1 goal in 62 games this season with Springfield of the AHL.
Why am I telling you all this? No reason, really. Just a little anecdote – filler, as some of you like to call it – before a few hundred more arguments in Comments about Tavares vs. Hedman vs. Duchene.
As you may know, the Islanders are rightfully going first-class with their jersey for the first overall pick. Produced by the manufacturer in Queens, authentic vintage royal blue Third Jerseys have been stitched up for John, Victor and Matt. No velcro here. They’ll probably do nameplates for picks 26, 31 and 37 and maybe even the third-rounders.
Handing over a jersey with a name on it to a kid drafted 56th overall is cool. It sends a message to the player and the rest of the arena that you really wanted him.
Today’s the day the top prospects are the featured guests at a luncheon with the media. A lot of press will come out of it. Nothing of substance will be said, which is why I’m staying back and working the Draft Party – aka Tavarestock or Johnaroo. Tavares, Hedman and Duchene will say they would love to be the No. 1 pick, welcome playing for the Islanders, enjoyed their visits and have no clue where they’ll be drafted. Of course, they have said this all before, but it will be treated as if they haven’t.
I got a few notes yesterday from media friends about Garth Snow’s four-questions-and-out huddle yesterday. The gist of all of them: it’s very cool the Islanders are keeping this a secret, Snowy, but lighten up and show a sense of humor about it. Maybe he will today if they catch the GM before he gets in the hotel elevator.
Thanks to Bob l for the Johnaroo. Comments on this story only. Comment Guidelines.