As told to: Stephen SmithDraft day was in Montreal at the Forum and it was really cool. My dad and, geez, about a dozen of his buddies were there, and they were all Habs fans growing up, so they were thrilled to be there, obviously. And about 100 people from my hometown went down to watch.
I was rated first — to go first — and I remember there was some talk of me going to Tampa. I’d spoken to the Espositos, who were running the Lightning then, that was the first year of the franchise, ’92. And so May, the month leading up to it, I’d been down to Tampa and I’d talked to Phil and I’d sort of, you know, between him and me, he’d given me the vote of confidence, he said, Yeah, we’re going to take you, if it’s up to me, we’re taking you.
So we didn’t do any more interviews and Donny Meehan had got a couple of calls about it, my agent, saying looks like Tampa’s going to take you.
“I have this whole spectrum of emotion in about three minutes.”
And then it’s Wednesday and Donny and I drive down to Montreal together. And Donny’s from Montreal, so he’s taking me around, showing me all his old spots. It was really cool.
Then Donny gives me a call. It’s Friday afternoon, Friday evening. He says, Hey, come up to my room, I’ve got to have a chat with you. Draft is Saturday. He said, I just spoke with Phil and they had some meeting and because they’re a first-year franchise, they want to allow their scouts and player development people to pick the first pick. So … they overruled him. So they decided on Roman Hamrlik, which in hindsight’s probably a great pick.
I’ll never forget it: I’m sitting in Donny Meehan’s room and he looks at me and he says, So, I don’t know where you’re going now.
This is my agent.
The only other interview I’d done, it was about six weeks prior, it was San Jose, and they picked third. I thought maybe the Sharks would take me. Before that I’d met with the Rangers and one other team.
I remember thinking, well, I’m going to get picked, it doesn’t really matter. He’s like, Well, maybe we can get you to Toronto at six, or whatever they picked that year, five, I’m not sure. I just remember thinking, geez, that’s a pretty big fall, I’m going to have to answer questions about that. But also, that would be amazing, I’d love to come and play in Toronto.
It all plays out the next day. It’s really kind of complicated because a few of my family members — there’s a hundred of us from home — and the hockey circle is a small one, and people know, they’re going to take Warriner first. And then all of a sudden they take Roman Hamrlik and you can kind of hear the collective groan — what happened there? I’m not allowed to say anything about it, in the hours leading up to the draft, so I’m sitting there tightlipped, with Donny and my family — my mum and dad, of course, know.
So then Ottawa picks Yashin and San Jose picks Mike Rathje, a big defenceman. It comes to Quebec … The year prior was when Lindros didn’t put the jersey on when the Nordiques drafted him, 1991. Here we are in the Forum and Quebec’s going to take their pick. Donny’s to my left and my parents and my sister to my right. Pierre Page and Pierre Gauthier get up from the table and they nod to Donny and Donny says, in not so many words, Aw, crap, Quebec’s going to take you. [Laughs]
I don’t know what I said. It all played out. I went down and did a TSN interview, I couldn’t tell you what I said. I went up to the podium and they give me the shirt and the hat and I don’t think twice about it, I put them on. The Montreal Forum stands and applauds the fact that I just put on the jersey for Quebec. So I have this whole spectrum of emotion in about three minutes.
The best part of this story: that night, I’ve got my Nordiques jersey on. We had a corner room, a bigger room, and there were two or three guys a couple of doors down from us. We’re having fun, we’re partying, there are all these friends of mine from home, and all these guys I’d played with and against that got drafted, some did, some didn’t. We’re up and down the halls.
Turns out, people have been making complaints against our floor. My phone had been off the hook, the hotel had been apparently calling me, we had no idea. At any given point, there’s probably 40 people running in and out of my room.
So: it’s 4.30 in the morning, I’m asleep, still got my Nordiques shirt on. And one of my best friends in the whole world and the second-round pick by the Nordiques, a guy named Paul Brousseau, decided to order food. He’s at the little table, sitting there eating it. And all of a sudden, it’s crack! crack! crack! on the door and four cops come into the room. I just remember coming to and looking up and going, what’s going on here? I put my hand down on the nightstand to kind of roll out of bed and the guy cuffs me and takes me right out in the hall. Pushes me against the wall.
Paul panics. He’s French-Canadians, drafted by Quebec, he’s like, I can’t be a part of this, I’m outta here, he’s down the hall, he’s gone. So it’s me and my buddy, my good friend left, you can tell by the look on his face, he’s scared to death of what might go on here. And they say, You’re out. We’re taking you out of this hotel, there have been complaints all night, you’re not answering your phone, you’re evicted, we’re taking you out. I said, Nobody called us, what are you talking about? They said, no, we’re taking you out.
I’m against the wall for like 40 minutes. My buddy’s packing all my bags, they won’t let me touch the stuff in my room. By the time we get it all packed up, it’s almost six. At this point you’re thinking, who’s going to be down in the lobby? I said, You gotta let me take my sweater off, I just got drafted, I can’t walk through the lobby. The guy says, okay, no problem. But I’m still in cuffs. I’m walking through the Queen Elizabeth Hotel lobby with all my bags and my buddy and we’re craning our necks to see who’s there. Nobody saw us — thankfully.
So we’re sitting on the steps of the train station in Montreal. We’re sitting there. Sun comes up. We’re like, what the hell are we going to do? Somebody sees us, I just got drafted by the Nordiques, this is a national story.
So I call Donny. He’d given me a cellphone. We called his room, ‘Donny, got some bad news, buddy.’ He tells us to go into the train station, get in the elevator in the back corner, press number four … he’s from Montreal, he knew how to get us into through the hotel kitchen. So there’s Donny, in his robe, the door opens and it’s me and my buddy standing there with our trolley and our bags. He’s looking at us thinking, who in the hell is this kid?
Nearly over before it started.
STEPHEN SMITH is the tall author of the popular hockey blog PUCKSTRUCK, which also happens to be the name of his first book (Greystone), longlisted for the 2015 Charles Taylor Prize in non-fiction.
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