A Wild day for Pouliot

CHRIS STEVENSON -- Ottawa Sun

, Last Updated: 9:42 AM ET

Benoit Pouliot's first thought, on the biggest day of his young life, was of his father, Sylvain.

Before the kid from St-Isidore slipped into his green shirt and zippy green tie and headed to the NHL draft at the Westin Hotel, Pouliot thought about what the day would bring and what it would have meant to his dad.

"I thought about him (yesterday). I thought about him when I got up (yesterday) morning, first thing," said Pouliot, who was taken fourth overall by the Minnesota Wild yesterday.

LOST BATTLE WITH CANCER

Sylvain Pouliot passed away last year after a battle with cancer.

That left a hole in what otherwise was a magnificent day for Pouliot and the rest of his family and friends. They had mugged for photos in the lobby of the Westin before the draft started.

Pouliot's green shirt and tie wound up matching the colours of the Wild sweater he received.

His dad most certainly would have been proud, like the other dads who were there with the 20 or so prospects invited to yesterday's scaled-down affair.

It is a common sight on days like yesterday, fathers and sons united in a moment of deep significance for each.

That moment is the culmination of years of seemingly endless car rides, maxed out credit cards after travelling to tournaments, forfeited family vacations and hundreds of cups of poor arena coffee.

The son is wearing a crisp new NHL sweater and usually the team's cap with a freshly shaped bill.

The dad is wearing an expression which meanders between pride and something you'd see on the face of somebody who just survived a car accident.

Jerry Price has been on both sides of it.

He was drafted 126th overall in 1978 by the Philadelphia Flyers.

Yesterday, he saw his goaltender son, Carey, selected fifth overall by the Montreal Canadiens.

He had that shaky look.

"It kind of hit me as I was coming up the stairs," he said outside the ballroom at the Westin where yesterday's draft was being held.

"You have a whole lot of fears and then all of a sudden, there it is."

Jerry Price never signed with the Flyers, kicked around the minors for a bit and decided to pack it in after a couple of knee injuries.

He met a girl from Anahim Lake in the British Columbia interior and that's where they lived.

"The population? Not very much," said Price. "It's not big enough to have a bank. The nearest bank is 200 miles away."

320-KM DRIVE ... TO GAMES

Carey skated on natural ice ("Like skating on a sidewalk," said Jerry) until he was nine years old and they started making the 320-km drive into Williams Lake, B.C., for Carey to play minor hockey.

Three times a week.

And that was just for the home games.

Talk about a commitment.

There were lots of stories like that yesterday.

The Pouliot family (Benoit has two brothers playing junior hockey, as well) made the same kind of commitment.

They saw it pay off yesterday.

"He's a late developer, but we think he has a real big upside," said Wild GM Doug Risebrough. "As a new team, one thing you don't get easy or often is speed and that's what this kid is all about. He fits in with what our team is trying to do."

Pouliot said he was looking forward to playing for Wild coach Jacques Lemaire -- who turns out good two-way players -- and with young stars like Marian Gaborik and Pierre-Marc Bouchard.

Though he was rated to go by some right behind top pick Sidney Crosby, Pouliot wasn't complaining yesterday about being picked fourth.

"Does it matter? Not at all to me. I was an 11th-round pick in the OHL, so it doesn't matter where I'm going to go. Some guy who gets drafted in the seventh round, he'll do anything to make the team same as I did in the OHL.

"It doesn't matter to me. It's great. I'm standing here in front of you guys and it's unbelievable."

DAD WOULD BE 'AMAZED'

Pouliot looked down from the riser upon which he was standing to be interviewed.

"If (my dad) was here now, he would be amazed," he said, looking around the room.

"He'd be so happy for me. I'm sure he is right now."

chris.stevenson@ott.sunpub.com


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