"You failed a test, your girl left you, things are hard at home, and you got a ticket on the way to the rink. It doesn't matter. Lace up the skates, put on the gloves, strap on the helmet and walk into a realm where nothing else matters. For the next few hours, your universe is absolutely perfect."
...And if perfection is what you get on the ice, chaos is what occurs off of it. Despite some intense uncertainty, things were going pretty well for me at the time. I calmly assumed that things just had a way of working themselves out and that this situation would be no different.
On the second last game of the season my team had a chance to clinch a favorable playoff spot that would allow us to avoid a first-round matchup with a team that has already put two guys in the NHL. It was basically a must win situation. I specifically remember hating the arena in this particular city. Dressing rooms were small, ice was always terrible, and the parents on the other team were insane. I recall one particularly deranged mom yelling over the boards at the ref that I was "on the juice and should be banned" after I laid one of my better body checks against their team.
Winning 4-3 late in the third period, I was back-checking as hard as I could to catch a player on a breakaway. When his shot hit the post and lay in the crease, I stretched out and dove to clear the puck. A dog-pile ensued. After the whistle blew, I got up on one knee and stared into space for a moment. Something wasn't right. Why does it feel like I have no right arm? Then came the pain, followed by my trainer (an MD).
"My arm isn't in it's socket or something"
(Takes off my equipment, feels around the shoulder area)
"Ahh shit, looks like you dislocated your shoulder"
"Well put it back in and give me my stuff, the game isn't done."
"Don't think so pal, you might have torn some things in there."
I had never had a major injury before, I assumed this was nothing and that I would be back in a few days. Speaking to the orthopedic surgeon the next day, I was informed that my season was definitely done and that the best course of action would be to have the surgery ASAP, otherwise it would most likely continue happening.
Anyone who follows the NFL draft knows that the word "surgery" really means "stay away from this prospect". And news travels fast. The phone calls definitely slowed down, but they still came. Dale Hunter called and once again we had a pleasant conversation. This time he told me that he'd love to take me with his 4th round pick but that I probably wouldn't last that far.
I think there comes a point in every athlete's life when they realize that they are not invincible. For some, it could be when going from high school to college and realizing that athletic ability alone won't cut it anymore. For the really good ones, the ones who truly are elite, it might come with old age when they begin to see that they won't stay great forever. My career was far from over, but I never took my talent for granted again after that injury.
The show must go on.
I had the surgery done pretty quickly and all I could do was wait to see what happened. Central Scouting released their final rankings a few weeks before draft day. My final rankings were as follows:
Pre-season - A (rounds 3-6)
Mid-season - AA (rounds 1-2)
Final - B (rounds 6-9)
In the days leading up to the draft, my local newspaper does a rundown of the local prospects with a chance at being drafted and has an anonymous OHL scout give comments about each. Since it is still sitting on my mom's fridge, here is what mine said:
"An interesting case. Has top 40 talent but missed the most important parts of the season with serious injury. Likely won't fall too far, but teams will be concerned about a 15 year-old with major surgery on his resume.
Big, strong, forward was unquestioned leader of his team that had trouble winning without him. Developed a nasty side to his game this year. Willing to get dirty in the corners and in front of the net but possesses surprisingly good scoring and playmaking ability. Needs to develop a quicker first step and learn to stay low."
The OHL draft used to be exactly like the NHL. It was held at an arena with a podium so that the GM's could announce the picks and give a jersey to their selections. My draft was either the first or second one to be held on the internet. Watching heartbroken, future-millionaires plummet at the NFL draft in New York is hard enough. Try watching 15 year olds who believe they are about to get a jersey not get their names called at all. Alot of crying went on at those drafts. Remember that 600 kids are given a letter grade and deemed eligible for a draft that contains only 300 slots.
I'm quite certain that I didn't sleep the night before the draft. Unless you are a definite top 10 pick, nobody has any clue where they will get drafted. I watched the entire draft because it was interesting, but I started to look for my name once the 2nd round started. When you get drafted, it consists of you sitting in front of a laptap pressing F5 every 10 seconds for several hours. When my name didn't come up with the first pick of the second round, I began to fear that I wasn't going to get drafted at all. The headlines would read "Guinness confirms biggest draft plummet in sports history--local has-been to become hobo"
Then my name came up and my heart stopped beating for what seemed like a minute. My mom cried. I won't say exactly where I got drafted but I went well ahead of my final projection. It may not mean that much, but at 15 years old getting selected in a draft that some people in some places actually care about is an amazing feeling. I jumped around for a while and then spoke on the phone to the GM who called right after the pick. After our conversation, I forgot who I had just spoken to and which team had drafted me.
Rehab was going well and decision time was looming. I was hearing that Michigan had become interested in me because a few of their prospects who were older than me had declared their intentions to play in the OHL. But getting drafted is a circus. Everywhere around town I was getting congratulated. My friends had a party to celebrate my getting drafted. Girls started treating me differently at school. I think they thought I had somehow become rich or something, not realizing that OHL players make $55 a week.
If you're undecided, OHL training camp is where you make your decision. As I understood it, once you spend over 48 hours with an OHL team, the NCAA considers you a professional athlete with no college eligibility. So i went to camp, still about a month away from being able to play full contact.
I sat down with the GM, who knew that I was considering college. He basically explained to me the benefits of the CHL, the education packages, and the unique experience of being a young local celebrity. He was very polite about it, but told me that if I was signing, he wanted it done within 2 weeks.
"Two weeks is plenty of time to evaluate your options. I have to know these things so I can plan for my season. There are other kids we drafted who would love nothing better than for you not to sign so that they can have your spot."
He gave me a contract and I took it home. On this contract, I was given the second best educational package available (1st rounders get the best) which consisted of 4 years of 75% tuition paid for. It was also a 2-way contract, meaning I was basically signing with two teams: the OHL team, and their junior B affiliate. This meant that I might play the year in junior B, or they would send me down if I wasn't performing.
So i went home and thought. I thought all day, I thought all night. I had no appetite, and I don't think I spoke to anyone besides my mom the entire time. I was waking up almost every night in a cold sweat. I was so afraid of making the wrong choice. Why should I sign there? If they are going to keep me in Junior B then I might as well just play tier 2 Junior A in Toronto and wait for a scholarship. Then the phone rang, it was the GM.
"Have you thought about it?"
"Yes, I'm still not sure"
"How's this sound? A one-way contract (guaranteed spot on the team) and a 1st round educational package (100% tuition)."
"I'll call you back tomorrow"
What if I wait for a scholarship and then Michigan doesn't even want me? What if Michigan offers me a scholarship and then I dislocate my shoulder even worse next season, ending my career and eliminating my non-binding commitment? It isn't worth it.
So I signed. I signed because I was terrified. Because I couldn't take anymore agonizing, sleepness nights. I signed because the attention I was getting from the OHL and the local fans and my peers was like a drug. I signed because it was the easiest thing to do. And honestly...
It felt great.
I was late getting this done and that is because I had no idea where to end the story. I realize that some of you will not be pleased with this ending but I really can't go much further. The original purpose was to give you guys insight into college hockey recruiting as it relates to the CHL and I think I have done that. Furthermore, anything past that point would have had nothing at all to do with Michigan and would be pretty self-serving on my part.
If you guys have any questions, I'll answer them below. Just remember, I'm not giving up my identity. To answer your first few questions: No, I don't play in the NHL. I am in law school and am a hockey agent in training. Thanks for reading guys. This was a bit rushed because I have somewhere to be but I wanted to have it done by tonight. I'll be back later to correct any of my spelling/grammar mistakes and answer your questions.