(Photo by Amy Johnson | © Rocket Sports Media) Mandatory Credit Required

by Joseph Whalen, Staff Writer, AHL Report

Two weeks ago, I was in Texas for the 2018 NHL Entry Draft. Even now, that’s a weird sentence to write. As a writer for AHL Report and All Habs Hockey Magazine, I was pleased to join the Rocket Sports Media team as they arranged for readers and contributors to meet in Dallas.

I was there in person to witness 217 players realize their dream of getting drafted by an NHL club. I saw the joy and elation, not just from the draftees, but also their family and friends.

In addition to beholding an amazing event, I was there with some great people in a lovely, albeit humid, city. And perhaps that’s the best place to start considering my Dad and I left Newfoundland to head to Dallas.

(Photo by Rick Stephens | © Rocket Sports Media) Mandatory Credit Required

We are both from outside St. John’s. Facing an extremely different climate, we really put on a brave face. Well, at least I did.

My Dad has been to Mexico several times and the Dominican Republic as well. He enjoys hot temperatures. On the other hand, I had only been to the United States once before this trip, almost almost 11 years ago to Florida. To be honest, I do not seek the heat, I actively hide from it.

On Friday evening, on our way to the first round of the draft, my Dad and I shared a ride from our hotel with a lovely family from Sweden. Like me, they were not accustomed to the temperatures that greeted us in Dallas. Coming from similar climates, we both concurred that it was too hot in Dallas, but still a very nice change of pace from our hometowns.

The event itself was extremely well-run. Outside the arena, there was the NHL Fanfest  with live music, an exhibit from the Hockey Hall of Fame, and an opportunity to have your photo taken with the Stanley Cup. In true Texas fashion, there was a mechanical bull. It was quite cool but I said ‘no thanks.’ Suffice to say, they had it all.

I must say being there in that environment with all those passionate hockey fans was simply amazing.

Just before the doors opened and everyone piled inside the American Airlines Center to get out of the sweltering heat, my Dad and I had a really nice conversation with a couple of Arizona Coyotes fans and their daughter who happened to be a fan of the St. Louis Blues. The man had noticed my Dad’s Montreal Canadiens hat and shirt and brought out an almost brand-new Max Domi Coyotes jersey.

Ouch. We reassured him that Alex Galchenyuk will be a good player for Arizona, especially if he plays centre. In return, the gentleman gave us an in-depth scouting report of Domi. It was great to talk hockey with a fan of a team whose perspective is not often at the forefront in Canada.

Then we made our way to our reserved seats for the first round of the draft. I sat there in awe pointing out well-known team executives, former players and television personalities. It was like “Where’s Waldo” but with 1000 important hockey people.

Islanders general manager Lou Lamoriello walked by us on two occasions, once outside before Fanfest and once in the arena. That might be the coolest thing that’s ever happened. But, anyways after I got used to my surroundings and all of the people I had only seen before on television, it was time for the first round to get underway. There was so much energy in the building.

(Photo by Amy Johnson | © Rocket Sports Media) Mandatory Credit Required

Buffalo Sabres fans were the first to celebrate enthusiastically when the moment everyone was expecting finally happened. Rasmus Dahlin was drafted with the first overall pick.

Sabres fans were heard from again later in the night chanting “No goal!” when it was Dallas’ turn to draft. Buffalo fans won’t forget the controversial triple overtime goal scored by Brett Hull in game six of the 1999 Stanley Cup memory. Yes hockey fans have long memories.

For me, this was the loudest sporting event I have ever attended. The volume and energy from the fans is warranted as the NHL Draft is such a unique event. It is the NHL’s ‘feel-good’ night.

It is the weekend that dreams come true for a special group of athletes. Fans watching around the world, but particularly those in attendance get an up-close glimpse at young men realizing their dreams and celebrating a unique milestone in their hockey careers. It is truly something special for me to witness in person.

We were fortunate enough to have great seats with the Rocket Sports group. On day two, it seemed that many of the draftees were around us. Canadiens second round pick, Jesse Ylonen, was seated just a section to the right of us, and that was incredible to see!

(Photo by Amy Johnson | © Rocket Sports Media) Mandatory Credit Required

Later in the day, the Washington Capitals selected goaltender Mitchell Gibson in the fourth round. Gibson and his family were seated just two rows down from us. I can’t describe the amount of joy that I witnessed at that moment right in front of me.

While the camera can capture hugs and high-fives for the television audience, there is no way that the raw emotion I saw and felt can be adequately appreciated unless you are right there. Watching it all transpire right before my eyes is something that I will never forget.

For me, another memorable moment came on day two as it was announced that it would be the last draft for the legendary Jim Gregory. Currently the NHL’s Senior Vice President of Hockey Operations, Gregory has been part of every draft since 1980. As long as I can remember, Gregory would announce the names of draftees from round two on.

Personally, day two of the draft has always been a favorite of mine. It’s the time for the unheralded players, the ones who will arrive in the NHL with something to prove. Gregory has always played a big role in day two and embodied what it was all about. So to be there in person for his final performance was incredibly special for me.

Without a doubt, this was an experience of a lifetime. To go to the NHL Draft with my father and with the wonderful team of contributors at Rocket Sports was tremendous.

(Photo by Rick Stephens | © Rocket Sports Media) Mandatory Credit Required

In addition, Rocket Sports, through its partnership with the NHL, provided prime, reserved tickets to almost 50 contest winners who joined us for the weekend. It was a lot of fun to meet those passionate hockey fans from all over Canada and the United States.

In short, everything about this trip was amazing. I recommend that all hockey fans should  attend next year’s draft in Vancouver with Rocket Sports. Watch for contest opportunities. You will be witnessing future captains, NHL All-stars and perhaps even Hall-of-Famers walk to the stage to put on a jersey and take the next step in achieving their childhood dreams.