needs moar usage
An Existential Journey in Hockey Part 2
NOTE: I am not so narcissistic as to think that my life is deserving of a novel, but I didn't realize just how much information would be involved in this story. I originally intended to write about an alternative perspective to the OHL vs. NCAA debate, but it turned into a story about my hockey life and I think it works better this way. I really hope I'm not boring the shit out of you guys, thanks for reading.
Why'd you turn against me, Gordon? For six years, I taughtcha how to skate, I taughtcha how to score, I taughtcha how to go for the "W". You could have been one of the greats. An' now look at yourself. You're not even a has-been. You're a never-was. " - Mighty Ducks
The OHL draft year begins the day after the previous one takes place. Scouts never stop scouting. Players never stop playing, and parents never cease to believe their child is the foremost deserving of attention. My coach arranged to have various scouts and OHL executives speak to us prior to the season so we would know what to expect. The most common advice in no particular order:
1. Lay off the beer/marijuana 2. Don't change your game just to impress scouts (most kids had trouble with this one) 3. Do not take steroids, they don't help with hockey and they will destroy your teenage body 4. Teams will absolutely inquire about your character, so don't be an idiot off the ice or at school.
This period in my life seemed like one long existential crisis. Who was I? Was I the type of guy who would go to the OHL or should I hold out for a letterman jacket? I will say this: I don't remember anything from my social life as a 15 year old. I'm pretty sure there were girlfriends, parties, and hangouts but I don't remember much of it. Ask me about my hockey season though and I can probably recall my team's record against every other team in the league, right down to which goalie was playing on each side, and who were the top performers from each game.
In a game that featured two teams with several top prospects, there would be at least 15-20 scouts in the stands who were identifiable by the logo-jacket and notepad. I was nervous to the point of barely being able to speak prior to each and every game I played.
When the year begins, Central Scouting releases a preliminary draft list with about 100 kids on it. Teams add players as the year goes on which results in a mid-term ranking with 300 players and the list ends up at 600 kids who are eligible in the final version. Only 300 get drafted in total. The rankings go as such:
AA - Bluechipper, rounds 1-2
A - Rounds 3-6
B - Rounds 7-10
c - Rounds 11-16
Mind you, every eligible player receives a letter grade, and only half of the total players on the list would get drafted at all. Prior to the season, to my dismay i received an A grade, pegging me to go in rounds 3-6. Oh well, maybe it had something to do with my flirtation with college hockey.
Letters from colleges started coming in. The first letter I got was from Ohio State. It said something along the lines of "We recently scouted you at the (whatever) high school tournament and are aware of your talents, we will continue to scout you." That was a funny one because I never played high school hockey in my life. Moreover, I wasn't even aware that Ohio State had a hockey program. Letters continued to roll in. Holy Cross, Michigan State, Maine, Minnesota, Notre Dame. No Michigan. Remember, schools can't make offers to kids that young. The letters all contained generic language talking about educational opportunities saying that they were basically aware of my existence along with some brochure and questionnaire. Nothing from the actual coaches, and nothing personal at all.
I was very much wanting some sign from the University of Michigan that they were interested. I began sending emails to who I thought was Coach Berenson. Basically, I wrote about my hopes and dreams and that it would be an honor to play for Michigan. I did so at least every two weeks all season, giving updates on my stats and performances. I don't even remember where I got the email or if he was reading them. I didn't send out any other emails, only to Michigan.
My season was going splendidly. The mid-term rankings came out and I was pushed to a AA projection. What a feeling. I remember the same week that the rankings came out my grade 10 math teacher told me that Dale Hunter (Owner/head coach London Knights) had called him to ask what kind of kid I was, if I did my homework, and if I treated my classmates with respect. A week later he called my house to have a good, long conversation about what the Knights had to offer for a young man. We talked for at least 30 minutes and the conversation ended with him saying that he wanted me with their 2nd round pick but that I probably wouldn't last that far (the Knights were a powerhouse, picking last in each round). This wasn't the first such call I had received, but it became at least an every other day occurrence at this time, along with giant packages in the mail with brochures from each club containing hand written letters from coaches/GM's.
In football recruiting terms, I was a 4-star prospect, probably somewhere just inside or outside the Rivals 100. Now imagine a prospect lists Michigan in his top 5 with LSU, Bama, USC, Florida. Then, tell Brady Hoke that he is the only one of those coaches who is not allowed to speak with said prospect at any point during his senior season. In fact, he's not even allowed to let him know that they want him there at all. Meanwhile, Les Miles and Nick Saban are speaking to him daily, making in-home visits, and sending emails. That's what NCAA hockey deals with every single year against the CHL.
I still wasn't wavering on Michigan, but I didn't know what to do. I began to tell scouts that I would go to the NCAA only if I could go to Michigan, otherwise I'd be in the OHL. The only reason I said this was so that the hockey community would know that I wanted to go to Michigan. The hope was that this information would make it to someone important in Ann Arbor at which point the information would trickle back to me as to whether they were interested or not.
This worked, kind of. There are these companies that exist that you pay to promote you as a prospect. They are mostly geared toward helping Canadians get NCAA attention. I got two or three calls, all from different people claiming to work for various services inquiring about my intentions. I was not paying anyone for this service, they just called me.
"Hey, I heard you're interested in the NCAA. Good for you, smart guy like you should be doing that."
"I am interested, but only in Michigan."
"Oh really, I was going to suggest you look elsewhere, I know they have their eye on some other prospects and I think a big gritty forward like yourself is better suited to the OHL."
"What, you just said I should be playing in the NCAA"
"I'm just saying, I don't think Michigan is interested, maybe you should look at other schools. But you never know, right?"
"Yeah, right, cya"
SHIT!?! Who the hell was that and why is he taking a dump on my dreams? I told people about this call and most said not to worry about it. Chances are, according to my coaches and friends, that it was someone from an OHL team who knows that only want to play for Michigan and will otherwise go to the O.
At this point, I was getting extremely upset and impatient. Rules be damned! Michigan, if you're interested, give me some sort of sign. Anything will do.
I started to hear from every direction that there were several top division 1 scholarships available to me, but that Michigan would probably not be one of them unless I was willing to wait at least a year for them to see where their scholarship situation stood. At this point, the information was becoming so similar from all sides that I had to assume it was true.
That is until I finally got the letter. Stacked somewhere in between the Oshawa Generals and Bowling Green was a letter with a block M in the corner. It contained a brochure for the University, a questionnaire, and the contact information for the coaches. Turns out, I had not been emailing coach Berenson at all, but now I had his real address. I emailed him and got a response from an assistant coach. He told me to call him.
WHAT?! I can call these people?! How was this not explained to me before? I had never bothered to email any other school and since the player must initiate contact, they couldn't reach out to me. This changed things. I called the number several times and left messages, but nothing. Then finally, someone picked up and we had a good, long conversation.
While these conversations excited me, they were generic and non-informative. I still had no idea where I stood with them, and that was not a good thing.
Draft day was 3 months away and I was still hearing through the grapevine that I was not a plan A player for Michigan. Shit was about to hit the fan.