Better late not for Earl

MIKE ZEISBERGER -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 2:06 PM ET

Robert Earl's grandparents headed back to Los Angeles on Saturday night after a day of disappointment.

They had sat beside their grandson in the chilly climes of the RBC Center in Raleigh, N.C., for five hours and three rounds of the National Hockey League entry draft, hoping to hear some team call out the name of the swift University of Wisconsin forward.

But when the announcement never came, it was decided the best thing for Tom and Pat McCusker to do was to return to the left coast.

"They thought I would be picked on the first day and so did I," Earl said yesterday. "It was more frustration on all our parts. They were very upset, like I was, to see guys picked ahead of me that, in my opinion, are not the player I am.

"My ego will be a little hurt when I get back to Wisconsin."

If you get the impression Earl, 19, has a chip on his shoulder, you are right on the mark.

He was selected in the sixth round (187th overall) in the 2004 entry draft yesterday by the Maple Leafs, a significant drop for a guy ranked 59th among North American skaters by Central Scouting.

Things haven't come easily for Earl. His mother, Eilleen, died from breast cancer when he was just two. His father, Darryl, passed away 10 years later.

As a result he was raised by his grandparents, who injected him with a passion for hockey. Tom McCusker grew up in Quebec City while Pat is from Toronto.

The NHL does not feature too many slick-skating African-Americans from L.A., but Earl hopes to change that trend.

"I think I'm one of the fastest available guys here," he said. "I just have to work on my strength."

Earl was one of six picks made yesterday by the Leafs under the supervision of director of scouting Barry Trapp, who continued to rave about Saturday's lone selection, third-round goaltender Justin Pogge of the Western Hockey League's Prince George Cougars.

"Looking at the draft, he's the guy I'm most excited about," Trapp said. "The more we talk to other hockey people, the more compliments we get about him."

Pogge, who now lives inPenticton, B.C., failed to attend the draft because he figured he would not be picked until the fourth round. Instead, he spent Saturday working at a local yacht club pumping gas and docking boats.

"I took Don Cherry's advice. Better to watch at home than to travel all that way, sit on the edge of your seat and be disappointed," Pogge said.

"It's a huge thrill. I always dreamed of being on an Original Six team and now I'm going to the Mecca of hockey."


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