MONTREAL, QC—One thing about applying the same sort of rabid love for an NHL team to another team from the junior ranks must be said before all others: if you do it, you will only be complicating your life.
It’s why the 2011 NHL Entry Draft this past weekend in St. Paul, Minnesota started out as a time for mourning instead of celebration for two of your resident bloggers here at All Habs, EP31 and yours truly, czechtacular.
I’ve been pretty lucky throughout the years. As a supporter of the Drummondville Voltigeurs since 2005, I’ve seen Derick Brassard be drafted by the Columbus Blue Jackets, a team I harboured no objections for (their love of Czechs certainly helped things along as well), refreshed the draft page like it was my job until former Volt Olivier Fortier wound up a Hab the following year, and cried tears of joy in the stands in 2009 as Gabriel Dumont put on the CH jersey for the first time as a member of the Canadiens.
Finally, despite the Florida Panthers’ winning ways against the Canadiens as well as the Ottawa Senators’ divisional proximity, similar joy was expressed for the likes of Dmitry Kulikov and surprise draftee Mike Hoffman both in earlier and later rounds.
But some events are much more difficult to digest. 2009 in Drummondville was a wonderful year in many respects, from the President’s Cup title to a certain coach’s promotion to the Hamilton Bulldogs to the three aforementioned names finding their way on the big stage in Montreal. It was also the year that fans got to see a highly talented 16 year old strut his stuff for the Voltigeurs for the first time—the second pick in the Q draft, otherwise known as the product of a very dismal previous year, poised to help his team make things right and much to everyone’s surprise, become champions of the league.
That young man’s name was Sean Couturier.
And Friday he became a Philadelphia Flyer.
Mock drafts aren’t good for much, which is why I didn’t make one here myself last week for you all to see. The consensus among them was that Sean was all set to join his former teammate Hoffman with the Ottawa Senators at pick number six. When he didn’t, and when he didn’t even go seventh, I had to start preparing for the worst. Had it not been for Paul Holmgren, Jeff Carter, and in some ways Ilya Bryzgalov, this pick would belong to the Columbus Blue Jackets and there would be no need to squeeze my friend’s hand that tightly as I sat glued to the couch in my red #7 Voltigeurs’ t-shirt. But here we were, and there it was, his name being announced on that stage. But I didn’t have it as bad as my buddy EP31.
This year I learned about the perils of being a fan of a major junior team. Sure, I’d been following the CHL for a few years, but my teams were always faily. They almost never got past the first round and if they did, they got squashed in the next round. This past year however, was different. The Niagara IceDogs in the OHL, the Montreal Juniors and Drummondville Voltigeurs in the QMJHL all had solid seasons. That meant that some of their players were projected to go high in the first round. Which meant, of course, they were going to get drafted by some pretty awful teams.
I can stomach some NHL teams better than others. The New York Islanders, I’m pretty neutral with. So when Ryan Strome became the first IceDog to be picked up, I was not only okay with it, but I was genuinely happy for him. After Strome was pickled I was praying to the hockey gods that the Senators wouldn’t pick Sean Couturier or Strome’s teammate Dougie Hamilton (long story short: I’m not a fan of the Senators). When the Senators picked a Swedish kid instead, I was relieved.
Of course my relief turned into complete horror when the Winnipeg Jets picked up Mark Scheifele. I knew what this meant long before the Flyers’s GM headed for the podium. It was bad enough watching Sean Couturier pulling on that blinding orange jersey. Watching one of your guys pulling on the enemy’s jersey was bad enough. But watching Dougie Hamilton pulling on a Bruins jersey was worse. Way worse. Two of my favourite players from last year picked up by Public Enemy Numbers 1 and 2 in quick succession. Horrible. As much as I want to wish the best for Couturier and Hamilton, I just can’t hope that they find any success against my teams in the pro-leagues.
The draft wasn’t a total horror show for me though. The Montreal Juniors defenseman Xavier Ouellet was snapped up in the second round by the Detroit Red Wings (he will join teammates Louis-Marc Aubry and Trevor Parkes). Strome will have a friend heading into camp as the Islanders picked up his teammate Mitchell Theoret in the seventh round. A nice surprise came at the very end of the draft. With just a handful of picks left to go in round 7, the Tampa Bay Lightning picked up Ondrej Palat of the Drummondville Voltigeurs. I think I can speak for czechtacular as well, when I say that I hope Palat will one day be able to be reunited with Guy Boucher.
If there is a shorter straw to be drawn between the two of us in that top 10 fiasco, EP definitely got it. Boston? Ouch.
There are a lot of things to be considered when making the jump to junior. If your prospects are good enough to make the big leagues, this emotional roller-coaster called the NHL Entry Draft is one of them. Paper bags in hand (if you’re not squeezing the life out of the people suffering around you, that is), DON’T listen to mock drafts, DON’T rule out the possibility of GMs going slightly mental and rewriting their team in less than 6 hours and DON’T take your past luck in the draft for granted.
This being said, of course, also DON’T knock a gift horse in the mouth when your former junior coach’s team, despite its past transgressions against your beloved Habs in the playoffs, drafts the little 19 year old Czech you were hoping would find a home. Nor when the new forward acquired by your junior team at its draft becomes a new forward acquired by your NHL team weeks later (ex: Olivier Archambault). DO carry a box of tissues for unprecedented moments like these, they can happen when you least expect them. They go a long way in removing a little bit of the sting from earlier, less-than-desirable occurrences.