Changes set to improve draft

JIM CRESSMAN -- London Free Press

, Last Updated: 8:41 AM ET

Don Cherry was in his suite at the Hershey Centre in Mississauga in the 2000 OHL draft when he spotted a player who had been sitting in the arena eight hours.

The draft was winding down -- something like the 18th round -- and Cherry felt badly for the kid.

Cherry, a co-owner of the Mississauga IceDogs at the time, sent word down to the team's table on the draft floor for someone to find out the player's name and select him.

Cherry didn't want the boy going home disappointed.

That was the last year the OHL held its public draft, which was modelled after the NHL entry draft.

The arena setting for the draft began in 1981. Before that, it was held in a hotel room.

But the board of governors ratified a recommendation that it be conducted by way of the Internet beginning in 2001.

The 20 clubs now do their business on the computer in their office.

The Quebec Major Junior Hockey League still does a public draft in an arena, while in the Western Hockey League teams put players on a protected list with a conference call.

The OHL also moved its draft day to the first Saturday in May from the first Saturday in June.

Commissioner David Branch said the changes were brought about to create a better environment for the teams.

He also said there was a concern for the players who must sit for long hours in an arena waiting to hear their name called, or not to hear their name called at all.

Branch said the draft process had a significant impact on those players and their parents.

"While you have the elation of the players picked early, you have a very different day for those players whose names are called much later, or not at all," Branch said at the time.

"We want to send the message it's not when you are selected, or where you are selected, but the fact you have been selected and to make the most of it."

London Knights defenceman Dan Girardi was in that last class of arena-drafted players.

He was selected in the third round by the Barrie Colts and says he enjoyed the atmosphere of excitement created by the public draft.

"I've never been to an NHL draft, so that was pretty much my NHL draft there, getting to walk down from the seats and meeting people at the table," he says.

"It was a pretty cool experience, walking down as a 16-year-old and meeting the big guys on the team," Girardi recalls.

"I remember walking down the flight of stairs and my legs felt really light. I thought I was going to fall down the stairs."

Defenceman Danny Syvret is an Internet child, selected by the Knights in the fifth round in 2001. The draft consists of 15 rounds.

He was at the OHA under-17 team tryouts when the draft was conducted.

"I would have been disappointed if I was at the arena and was told I was going to go higher," Syvret says now.

"Every once once in a while somebody would come in and post a round on the board."

Syvret doesn't feel as if he missed out on anything by not being able to attend a public draft.

"Your first real experience is coming into training camp. If you come to training camp and make the team, that's when you'll enjoy yourself the most."

Knights assistant general manager Jim McKellar says he misses the old draft.

"The arena draft was enjoyable. Most of these kids now really don't know what the other kids went through.

"I really enjoyed 2000. That was my first year with the Knights (after leaving the Sarnia Sting) and the last year of the walk-down.

"There's some anticipation that happens when you walk down and the thrill of coming down and meeting the team the first time."

McKellar says it was tough on the ones who had to sit, but it wasn't always like that.

"I remember the 1997 draft, with Sarnia. We were in the 20th round and we called a young goalie's name. We figured he wouldn't still be there, but when we called his name, he jumped up in the air and his whole family was high-fiving.

"You didn't have to look to find him in the seats.

"There couldn't have been 150 people left in the building, but it didn't matter to him what round.

"But I've also seen the kids sit teary-eyed and your heart goes out to them. There certainly were some mixed emotions to sit there and see kids go through that."


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