The best hockey weekend of your life

When I show up at shinny I am usually wearing my draft tournament gear, my themed socks, pant shells and jersey. It takes about 30 seconds to get noticed, the unis are always outrageous and inevitably someone comes up to me and the conversation goes something likes this. “Hey man these are awesome, where did you get them?” And so I go into my usual explanation, “I got them at the Draft Tournament”, the next question is “What is the Draft Tournament?”. How do you explain to someone who’s never had the best hockey weekend of their life, what the Draft Tournament is?!

It is like trying to explain what Fight Club is to someone who has never been to Fight Club. In many ways the Draft Tournament and Fight Club are the same, there is the Friday night ritual, a tight knit group of people, more like a family than a group of friends and an unbelievable weekend every tournament. The difference is, you don’t have to stand outside the door for three nights like Meatloaf, if you want in, you are immediately accepted even if you don’t know anyone and you are part of the crew. Hockey skill is optional, however, ability to drink is mandatory!

We all gather on a Friday night somewhere, be it Nashville, Vegas, Seattle, Phoenix or any other place we do this. Ok true, some of us show up a day earlier to enjoy the city and do a little sight seeing but we all end up in the same place Friday at 8PM. The designated draft venue. Everyone checks in and gets a dog tag with their name and position, on the back is the schedule for the next 2 days. A “before” picture is taken and you slide into the party.

he dipsies, he doodles and somehow the puck is in your net.

At this point old draft vets reacquaint with each other over a pint or shots of Jager (that’s for you Uncle Jager) but the majority of the room does not know each other, especially if this is a new tournament. You can easily spot the Ironman in the crowd, Jim has been to every tournament since he started going and holds the record for the most consecutive tournaments attended.

You won’t see the Legend, the Legend does not drink and usually misses the draft party, but boy can he skate. If you have never played with the Legend you are unlikely to draft him, but that is usually the steal of the round. He does not look like a hockey player when he first walks in the dressing room on Saturday morning, but looks can be deceiving and they are in this case. Once the Legend goes coast to coast for the very first time you play him, all bets are off, he dipsies, he doodles and somehow the puck is in your net. There are the other usual suspects too, Goose, Migs, Yorkie, LA, and the list goes on.

Nick gets on the mic and starts herding the cats, the room is a bit quiet at first because no one knows each other yet, and we are off. Another Draft party has begun. Nick calls the goalies up to the stage to figure out what team they will captain. Goalies crush the first round of beers, the one who finished first gets to draw the team first and so we go in the order of finishing the beer. We now know who has what team, so it is time to throw the jerseys on the tenders.

You sink into the couch, have a beer and go through a slow process of withdrawal wishing the next draft tournament was already here.

Every tournament has a different theme and look, in Seattle we’ve done the military a couple of times, last time it was the subs stationed around Bremerton. The best one so far was the one in Jasper, the hockey powers of the world. You could have played for team USA or team Canada and the jerseys were unbelievable. The most outrageous is definitely the first Toronto tourney we have done, it was the crazy Don Cherry suits, with collar on the jersey and a tie.

Anyway, the goalies have their jerseys, they crush another round of beers, whoever finishes first gets to draft first in the next round, the order of finishing the beer is the order of drafting. But it does not mean you are getting the best players in the next round, all rounds are set up in such a way that every player is of similar skill level in the round, so you may be picking the beginners to add to your team.

We have one guy, Brian Roy, up until he got married he was the perennial number one pick at every tournament he came to, but he was in the beginner round. Once the chugging is done and we review the slo-mo to make sure no one is cheating, the netminders make their picks by throwing a jersey on the player and taking a picture with them, they now have two players on their team. The draft picks of the second round are now up, they have to crush a beer and the faster they drink the better pick their new team gets in the next round. Since you don’t know if the next round is the best players in the draft you may want to pick the best drinker to improve your chances at picking next.

It is like trying to explain what Fight Club is to someone who has never been to Fight Club.

This goes on for a while until about half way point. This is where things get interesting, it is time for the heads and tails. Every tournament, draftees get to play heads and tails, the winner gets the next tournament for free! Not a bad way to go. All those who can make the next tournament stand up and put their hands on their head or their tail, Nick flips a coin. If it’s heads all the tail guys are eliminated only heads are still in the game and we keep playing until there is a winner. Good times.

Once the winner rejoices, we are back to the draft, next round is up, the room is lively, people are starting to gather around their teammates, same jerseys after all. Some work the room to persuade the teams to draft or not to draft their buddy, dad, son, daughter in the next round. Strategy at work. The draft goes on, and by the last round the teams are set, all jerseys are on the backs of players, spontaneous singing erupts like the year in Jasper, team Canada singing the national anthem, or the chant in Canmore where we had Canadian provinces, Quebec was chanting “separate, separate!”

Finally it is now time for the most important part of the night. Time race for schedule. Each team crushes beers as fast as they can, everyone has to drink, if you can’t drink beer you have to drink ginger ale or in some cases wine like Mak. The team with the fastest time gets to pick the best schedule for the weekend, you definitely want to avoid the 8AM special on Saturday after a night of debauchery prior, so drink up, open your throat and let the beer flow.

The night is nearing the end, the teams are picked, the jerseys dawned, the schedule is set the room is loud and no one wants to leave. Everyone now knows everyone else and drinks are flowing, another successful draft party. For a night that started with most not knowing who each other is, they are now part of something special, a team for a weekend and a family for life.

8AM comes early, especially when you find yourself at the hotel after party

8AM comes early, especially when you find yourself at the hotel after party on Friday and don’t make it to bed till five, just make sure you don’t lose your jersey or it might end up on the Jasper Bear, in the middle of town. But no matter, Saturday is a new day and we play 3 games. If you drank fast you have a good schedule with decent breaks, but if your team was slow, well you get what you get. The games are 1 hour long and usually there are 3 lines, so it is not as bad as it sounds. The team that gels the fastest is usually the team that will go far on Sunday.

¬†Anyone in their right mind would be hesitant to do something like this and I don’t blame you, so send them this link and they too can get on the crazy train.

The day is done, you are free to crash at the hotel, or like Yorkie go on another adventure and be ready to go on Sunday. There are still 2 more games to go, anything can happen a team with no wins could win the one game in the C final and exit as champs, an undefeated team can lose both games on Sunday and get nothing. Going home as B champs somehow is more satisfying than becoming the A runner ups, for the 5th time. It is not a sprint, it is a marathon. Of course everyone wants to win the A, but it is not about winning, it is about having a hell of a time, meeting new friends and forming lasting connections.

Sunday night comes to a close, the champions and the challengers have been determined. Hockey bags and unies are packed, it is time to leave this place, be it Canmore, Jasper, Toronto, Vancouver, or Calgary ,or where ever else we were.

It is a bit sad to leave all this fun behind, but the next draft tournament is just around the corner, and chances are you now know half the players coming. You make your way home to be greeted with a flurry of Facebook friend requests and a few days later Facebook blows up with all the high res pictures of the weekend’s activities. You sink into the couch, have a beer and go through a slow process of withdrawal wishing the next draft tournament was already here.

Now, imagine for a minute, telling your buddies you are going to fly, drive to Vegas, Nashville, Toronto, Canmore, Seattle, Calgary, Vancouver, Jasper or Phoenix¬† to play 5 games of hockey with a bunch of people you don’t know, next weekend. Sounds absolutely crazy, right? Anyone in their right mind would be hesitant to do something like this and I don’t blame you, so send them this post and they too can get on the crazy train.

Come find me at the next Draft party, introduce yourself, and the first one is on me!

See you soon.