I don’t have time to write much today. I am traveling again for work. Not complaining, this is one of the perks of the job: getting to attend the NHL’s major events.
This time, it’s the NHL Draft in Pittsburgh. I love this event for several reasons. Watching these 18-year-old prospects, who have worked and sacrificed to reach this point, never gets old. A lot of these kids made difficult choices, including moving away from home at 14 or 15, to pursue their dream of making it to the NHL. To see their reactions when their name gets called at the Draft is priceless.
I also love it because it can feel very much like the last day of high school. After a six-month regular-season, the two-month playoff grind, an Awards show in Las Vegas, the NHL Draft truly marks the end of the season. By the latter stages of Day 2, everyone is in a giddy mood, saying their goodbyes for the summer.
But my favorite thing about the Draft is that it isa giant hockey convention. Everyone — with the exception of current players enjoying a brief summer vacation — who is anyone in the game is here. Coaches, owners, general managers, agents, former players, prospects, etc. Anywhere you turn your head in town you spot someone noteworthy.
I think of how much Ryan would love it here. He always gets excited seeing hockey stuff anywhere. There is signage and team logos all over most of the downtown hotels. People are walking around everywhere wearing team paraphernalia. Yesterday, I spotted the Sharks head coach, Todd McLellan, and quickly fired off a text to Veronica to have her let Ryan know.
He’d probably object to being here because it’s not a game, but I just think once he saw all the hockey people that are here he’d love it. I’ll have to get him to a Draft one day.
There was another surprise when I arrived in Pittsburgh. I walked into the hotel lobby and was instantly hit with a sense of deja vu. I knew it wasn’t from other work related trips to Pittsburgh, which were spent at different hotels. I searched my memory bank for why I recalled this spot. Then someone mentioned they had seen a member of the Minnesota Twins, in town to play the Pirates, at our hotel.
That did it. My dad and I used to take baseball trips when I was a teenager. At first, we wanted to see all the old ballparks. Later, we combined seeing ballparks with college visits. That’s how we found ourselves in Pittsburgh, on the way to Michigan to visit what would end up being my college of choice in Ann Arbor.
As an added bonus to these trips, we would research and stay at the visiting team hotels wherever we could. As a starry-eyed baseball fanatic, it was an incredible thrill to find yourself seated next to Ozzie Smith at a hotel coffee shop.
The city of Pittsburgh is much different today. Three Rivers Stadium has been torn down and replaced by matching gems for the Steelers and Pirates. The Penguins’ old home, the igloo, is a pile of rubble near our hotel, having been replaced by the brand-new CONSOL Energy Center, site of this weekend’s Draft.
Of course, I am much different as well. I’m no longer a star-struck teenager. I’m a husband and a father. I’m thankful for the experiences I had with my dad. I don’t think I would have developed the same love of sports without his influence. Every time I’ve taken a sports road trip with my kids, I’ve thought of the times we spent together seeing games around the country.
I’m already looking forward to our next trips. Even though this has been a long season, I’m already looking forward to October. It can’t get here fast enough.