Undrafted on Draft Day

Contributed by Hockey Mom (ON, Canada)

THE SECOND TIME OUR SON’S NAME APPEARED on the OHL draft list, a year after he was first eligible, we were hopeful, but much less anxious. Because we’d been through this before, it was easier to turn off the computer after the first four rounds and get on with our Saturday. Our son headed to his bedroom to watch the draft on his iPhone, but soon fell asleep. My husband headed downstairs to watch television, but before long he was soon snoring in his La-Z-Boy recliner. I lay down on the couch to read, occasionally peeking at my iPad, before I, too, nodded off.

The telephone rang moments before the OHL team announced our son’s name. It woke up all three of us.

It struck me how different the draft felt this year. And man, did it feel different.

OHLpriorityselectionA year earlier we followed the draft on and off, until the bitter end. My husband sat in front of the family computer continuously refreshing the Web page, while I fussed with small cleaning jobs. Our son, upstairs in his bedroom, watched on his own. In the end, like many parents of minor midget players, we were disappointed for our kids.

What we did not know then, that we later learned, was what it felt like when teams were genuinely interested in drafting a player.

For us, the entire season felt different

When you are on a team’s radar, a GM’s interest goes beyond a standard questionnaire and a brief telephone inquiry. For us, there was consistent, and increasing, interest throughout the season. CHL teams expressed interest through telephone calls, indirect contact through the coaching staff, and directly, in person. The interest included an invitation to main camp should our kid remain undrafted (a pretty good Plan B that would soften the blow should a second draft come and go without being selected). After he was mentioned in a newspaper article, Junior A clubs came calling, too, but we never heard a peep from the team that drafted him until moments before they drafted him.

Once the season was over, team-mates told our son what they knew. Players, too, have a wide network and they are acutely aware of the buzz around a team-mate. They heard draft rumours from fitness trainers, and from skills/shooting instructors. On game days, they spotted scouts in the stands during warm-up.

There was what some call “heat” around the player. Early on, we’d felt the warmth. Suddenly, we were feeling the heat.

It was not as hard to recover from disappointment as we had imagined

In our minor midget season, it was hard not to be caught up in the excitement of possibility. Friends who had been through a draft year had forewarned us about the potential discord it creates within a team, and although there was a bit of tension, there was less than we expected.

For us, it was not all that hard to recover from disappointment of being overlooked. Our son went straight to work — focusing intensely on dryland training, shooting practise, and power skating — to achieve his goal of playing junior hockey the next season. It worked. He tried out for and made a Junior team the following season. Three months into the season he was told he would likely get drafted into the OHL the following April.

But first, there was disappointment and reassessment and encouragement and emotional support and well, basic parenting stuff.

It is no use telling an undrafted teenager that “it’s not the end of the world” because it sure the hell feels like it is. After all, these are teenaged boys being told that they are not good enough by the hockey Powers That Be.

Some will believe that they are not good enough. Others will not. Some continue to play, some quit. Others simply move on. How a player reacts to not being drafted shows his determination to play at a higher level.

After the tears, there is work to be done

The contrast to a player’s expectation and desire to be drafted can be skewed by the process.

Most, if not all minor midget players, receive a questionnaire by email. Many receive telephone calls from teams to gauge the kid’s interest in CHL vs. NCAA, and to assess suitability to their team. Others get assurances from advisors, or agents, or remain hopeful based on online player rankings, sometimes falsely. On the other end, they would have also been told “don’t get your hopes up,” or “it is not likely to happen.”

Any way you put it, the draft is a challenge to parents. Negative advice is criticism in an expensive suit; false hope does little good. You have to find a balance.

Once it happens, though, there’s also the right mix of what the player wants to happen, his ability, and his willingness to earn a spot.

The decision of what to do next can be a difficult one, too: Take the offer, or turn to junior A for NCAA opportunities.

Sure, it is a heady experience being drafted— for the player, for the parents—but just for a day, or two. If the player chooses major junior route, the everything becomes about getting ready for rookie camp. That’s the immediate concern. After that there is rookie camp followed by main camp, followed by concerns about getting into the lineup, and staying in the line-up, then getting on special teams. Players always want to make themselves better. Or, maybe your player makes the decision to not-report.

Getting drafted requires tough decisions, too.

Take the day as it comes. In sports, you can never get too far head yourself.

 


This article was originally published on Minor.Hockey.Life in March 2014. You may also be interested in reading OHL draft, one year later.

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