At the NFL draft, jersey-wearing fans sit nervously in the stands, zealously debating each selection, awaiting the next pick so they and their buddies can groan or cheer.
At the NHL draft, all of that is left to the players.
While the NFL and NBA drafts are more a showcase for high technology than high drama, with teams and players united mostly through conference calls and satellite hook-ups, Saturday’s NHL draft was more like a family reunion.
Teams didn’t send anonymous assistant equipment managers to sit behind $250 helmet phones, they dispatched the well-known faces of the game: Bobby Clarke, Scotty Bowman, Harry Sinden. There was about one Hall of Famer for every 50 square feet of table space on the Civic Arena floor.
At one point, Tampa Bay general manager Phil Esposito, engaged in trade talks with the Islanders’ Mike Milbury, covered his mouth so fans couldn’t read his lips on the huge overheard TV screen.
Up in the stands, players such as Bryan Trottier, Ron Francis and Ken Wregget mingled with about a hundred soon-to-be NHLers, handing out advice and encouragement to young players.
With so many movers and shakers of the game gathered in such close proximity, gossip and players were swapped with equal rapidity. Some hopefuls brought entire fan clubs with them. The well-groomed draft picks, including No. 1 selection Joe Thornton, waited apprehensively with their families and girlfriends, eager to shed their new suit coats and take part in the ritual of donning their new sweater.
“It makes you feel great. It makes you feel like you’re on Cloud 9,” Thornton said after Boston made him the No. 1 pick. “You’re so excited, you can’t sleep..
“There’s no pressure,” said Thornton, who had more points at Sault Ste. Marie than any player since Wayne Gretzky. “I’m ready for training camp.”
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MEMO: Story ended mid-sentence in the paper.