They’ve been poked and prodded, studied and tested.
They’ve had sit down interviews with the majority of NHL teams and are both expecting to hear their names called this Friday or Saturday as the NHL holds its 2012 NHL Entry Draft.
For Kelowna Rockets players Colton Sissons of North Vancouver and Damon Severson of Mellville, SK, this weekend will mark the end of more than a year of trying to impress hockey people around the globe each and every time they hit the ice.
From the warmth of Prospera Place to places like Toronto and even the Czech Republic, the two players have been watched by hundreds, if not thousands, of hockey eyes.
Now they head into the 2012 draft—the first round is Friday night, the rest of the rounds are Saturday—with every kids dreams approaching even closer.
By the time the weekend is over, the pair will have new goals and a huge weight lifted off their respective shoulders.
In his two seasons with the Rockets, Colton Sissons has established himself as a smart player and a good leader. He was named captain at the start of last season and then became the Rockets most consistent player.
He was a team captain when the CHL/NHL Top Prospects game was held in Kelowna where he played a physical game against the game’s best prospects.
Then last month at the NHL draft combine he met with 23 NHL teams as they wondered whether he was the man they wanted.
“It’s definitely a stressful year,” said Sissons earlier this week, before flying to Pittsburgh with his parents, his sister and his billet parents. “It’s the biggest year of your hockey career. There are ratings coming out left, right and centre and people are asking you about it and how it’s affecting your play.”
The NHL combine was one of the final stages of scouting in what is a well-oiled machine with big money on the line, as NHL teams look to build a winner by winning games. Prospects gathered in Toronto where teams had the chance to sit down in one-on-one interviews with any player they wanted. Both Rockets players had more than 20 interviews before being put through the paces in some intense fitness testing.
“They were trying to get to know what type of person you are and about your background and your family,” said Sissons. “I didn’t get too many outrageous questions like I was expecting.”
If the past year has taught hockey’s top prospects anything, it is that finding new players is serious business for NHL teams. They want to build a winner, want to find good players and character kids. To help them, most players have retained agents by the time their draft year rolls around, aiding the players and their families to navigate through the system.
“It’s pretty intense and of course, it’s a business,” said Sissons. “They’re trying to find new players to develop and try to win Stanley Cups. That’s what they are looking for. It’s a well thought-through business. I’ve been with my agent for a long time. It was a family decision. As a player you have someone pushing you and trying to help you get to the next level and just trying to get you started on your career.”
Due to a late birthday in his draft year, Sissons is already done high school. Not so for Damon Severson, who is going through the graduation process in his hometown of Melville, where he will graduate with his friends.
That will take place June 28. But this weekend Severson may have left the homework back home as he travelled to Pittsburgh with his parents and agent.
This past week may not have been the most productive week of academics.
“You’re going to school everyday and trying to focus on your school work as much as possible,” said Severson earlier this week. “But you’re just counting the days down until you leave. I’m excited to be going down there to see what happens.”
Severson is still 17 and that made him eligible to play for Team Canada’s Under-18 team that played in the World U-18 championships in the Czech Republic earlier this year. It was Severson’s first trip overseas and yet another chance to show the hockey world what the puck-moving defenceman has to offer.
“That was just a crazy experience, going overseas for the first time and seeing a new culture, it was quite an experience,” he said. “It was nice to play with all the best players around the world. You’re playing against them and the scouts are comparing you to others. You just wanted to make a good impression and play every shift like it’s your last one.”
Back in Canada, Severson has been waiting for draft day, with anticipation, waiting to find out where he will be selected.
“It’s going to feel like the longest weekend of my life,” he said. “It’s going to feel like an eternity, just thinking where you are going to go. Just knowing will be a weight off my shoulders.”
Hockey folks in Kelowna are pretty familiar with the story of Josh Gorges, arguably the best hockey player Kelowna has ever developed. He’s certainly the most successful. And he’s got the best story.
Gorges was expecting to be drafted in the 2001 NHL draft but never heard his name called.
It was nothing new for the Kelowna Minor Hockey product. He went un-drafted in the WHL bantam draft as well before walking on and helping lead the Rockets to a Memorial Cup.
Now 446 NHL games down the road, he’s established himself as a top NHL blueliner and was plus 14 over 82 games with the Montreal Canadiens this past season, his fifth full season in Montreal.
Kelowna Rockets president and general manager Bruce Hamilton says Gorges story is not new. He says many players get missed in the draft and then it becomes the WHL club’s turn to promote their players.
“It becomes a challenge to get them tryouts,” said Hamilton. “They have to come back and prove that the teams were wrong, which has happened many times, like in Gorges’ case.”
Hamilton, who watched his son Curtis drafted by Edmonton in the second round of the 2010 draft, says the weekend will be the biggest day in hockey for each of the players but it will also allow them to move on to the next stage of the process of becoming a pro.
“I think it will be good for them to get it out of the way,” he said. “It’s always in the back of your mind, everytime you make a mistake you wonder who was watching. You don’t worry when the good things happen but you do when there is a mistake or you are on for a goal.”
So all that is left is one, or possibly two days before Colton Sissons and Damon Severson as well as countless other players around the province, the country and the world, will find out if an NHL team will give them a shot.
Just like the cliche proclaims, it’s going to be a dream come true if and when it happens.
“It’s hard to believe,” said Severson. “You’re 17-years-old and you’re getting drafted. It’s a great opportunity.”
“It’s definitely surreal,” added Sissons. “I don’t really have my head fully wrapped around it. It’s something every kid dreams of, just to be here and hopefully get drafted is incredible to say the least. I’m enjoying it and I know I’m extremely lucky to be in the shoes I’m in. I’m just trying to enjoy it the best I can.”