The Draft Experience
When I show up at shinny (this is what we call pick up/drop in hockey in Canada) 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 a Draft Tournament”, the next question is “What is a 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 have fun is mandatory!
We all gather on a Friday night somewhere, be it Boston, Chicago, Nashville, Vegas, Seattle, Phoenix or any other place we do this (yep we’ve been to Austria and Japan in the last few years). Some of us show up a day earlier to enjoy the city and do a little sight seeing.
Eventually we all end up at the same place on Friday at 8PM, the designated Draft Party venue. Everyone checks in and gets a lanyard with their name and position, on the back is the schedule for the next two days.
he dipsies, he doodles and somehow the puck is in your net.
You Come For the Hockey, But Come Back For The People
At this point old draft vets reacquaint with each other over a pint, or shots of 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 nearly 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, Sharkey, Sprinkles, Goose, Migs, Yorkie, LA, and the list goes on. (hockey world is full of monikers, and you probably will get yours in time)
The MC 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. The goalies come up to the stage to figure out what team they will captain. Goalies crush the first round of beers.
The quickest one gets to draw the team he or she will be on first. And so we go on in the order of finishing the speed chug. 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.
Quickest Goalie On The Draw
Every tournament has a different theme and look, from “Draft of Thrones” to cereal, and Mighty Ducks, Whiskey brands, Halloween, and everything in between. To see some of our best themes, check out our Instagram page.
Anyway, the goalies have their jerseys. They crush another round of beers (pays to be a goalie eh?), 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, or you may be drafting ringers, you never know!
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. Now the team has two players!
Second round draft picks 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. (you don’t have to drink beer or alcohol, we will find you a suitably carbonated alternative)
It is like trying to explain what Fight Club is to someone who has never been to Fight Club.
8AM comes early, especially when you find yourself at the hotel after party
Finally it is now time for the most important part of the night: the boat race for schedule. Each team crushes beers (or other carbonated beverages) as fast as they can. Everyone has to drink, if you can’t drink beer you have to drink it has to be something else that is carbonated.
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, so drink up, open your throat and let the fun flow.
Are you excited yet?
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 into the night.
Another successful Draft Party! For a night that started with most not knowing each other, they are now part of something special, a team for a weekend and a family for life. You are in the #DraftFamily!
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 (sometimes it ends up on the Jasper Bear)! 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, you’ll be waking up early. The games are 1 hour long and usually there are 3 lines (9 forwards, 4D and a goalie), 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.
Nagano, Japan - September 2019
Draft Withdrawal Is A Thing
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 lifelong connections.
Sunday night comes to a close, the champions and the challengers have been determined. Hockey bags and unis are packed, it is time to leave this place, be it Penticton, Niagara Falls, Canmore, Jasper, Toronto, Vancouver, Edmonton, or Calgary,or where ever else we were having a great time for the weekend.
It is a bit sad to leave all this fun behind, but the next Draft Tournament is just around the corner. 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 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 head to Boston, Chicago, 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 we don’t blame you. So send them this post. They too can get on the crazy train and join the #DraftFamily.
See you soon.