On June 24, 2011 I had the privilege of attending the 2011 NHL Draft at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, MN. By all accounts, it exceeded my expectations.
In such a passion-filled hockey state it was only fitting that this year's draft be held in Minnesota. It was the second time in the state's history hosting the event, the only previous time being at the former Metropolitan Sports Center in 1989. Fans representing each team were present, though there were certain franchises with considerably more support than others.
Without question, Minnesota Wild fans made up the vast majority. There were droves of Calgary Flames, Pittsburgh Penguins, Washington Capitals, and New York Rangers fans. Even a few extinct teams, such as the Quebec Nordiques, had a presence.
But the most overwhelming support for a team not named the Wild were the recently approved Winnipeg Jets. Before the official kick-off to the draft from commissioner Gary Bettman and his family, Jets fans chanted "Let's go Jets! Let's go Jets!" If I didn't know any better I would have thought there was a game being played.
Numerous games and activities were setup on the main concourse area. Puck shooting contests, hockey card traders, life sized replica player locker rooms with equipment and jerseys to try on and much more were on hand.
Throughout the course of the evening numerous coaches and players interacted with fans, signed autographs, and posed for pictures. I even met Pittsburgh Penguins head coach Dan Bylsma. He was very friendly and thanked me for congratulating him on winning the 2011 Jack Adams Award as the NHL's Coach of the Year.
Nothing compared to what proved as a major surprise and delight when I walked through the doors to the Xcel - the Stanley Cup was in the house! During the prescribed showing time I made my way to the location where it was to be unveiled.
While standing in the middle of the concourse area I noticed a strange silence come over the surrounding crowd. I looked around to see what was going, and lo and behold there it was. Lord Stanley's Cup was being wheeled around by the security guard from the MasterCard commercial.
After picking my jaw up off the ground and waiting in line for roughly 30-45 minutes I finally had my chance. Even though superstitions say you aren't supposed to touch the Cup until you win it, I figured it was a safe bet I would never have that opportunity.
It also helps that the superstition wound up proving false - or perhaps dormant - for the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2009.
Aside from all of that fun stuff, there was actually a lot of business being conducted at the draft. Of course, teams were charged with putting faith in 17-19 year-old's to help fill various needs within their organizations.
Though not during the first round while I was present, three Notre Dame players (or players-to-be) were drafted by NHL clubs. Sophomore center T.J. Tynan, college hockey's national rookie of the year last season, was selected in the third round with the 66th pick by the Columbus Blue Jackets. Steven Fogarty, who won't embark on his Irish career until 2012-2013, was selected six picks later by the New York Rangers. Lastly, incoming freshman defensemen Robbie Russo was snatched up in the fourth round by the New York Islanders with the 95th pick.
Overall, the first night of the draft seemed to drag on as it took over four hours to complete 30 picks. Despite the longevity it was time well spent, though. I hope the Xcel plays host to a draft sometime again in the near future.