Other than the eligible players and their families, it’s probably safe to say that the majority of people who attended this week’s NLL Entry Draft had been to previous drafts. Most of the GMs, coaches, scouts, and executives have likely been to many of them. Some are former players and were drafted themselves. But as a lacrosse outsider, this was my first time. Some of the event went as I expected, and there were a few surprises as well. For others out there who have never been to a draft, here are some of my observations. These are all serious, unlike the goofy thing I posted yesterday.
The draft took place at the Westin Harbour Castle in downtown Toronto, one of the most well-known and swankiest hotels in the city. Coincidentally, this was where my high school prom was held, back in (OMG) 1987 when it was the Harbour Castle Hilton. I arrived around 6:40pm, and the draft was scheduled to begin at 7:00. There was a stage at the front with a big “NLL DRAFT” banner behind it, as well as banners on each side with all of the team logos. To the left of that was a table where the commentators Andy McNamara, Stephen Stamp, and Randy Mearns sat, and directly in front of the stage were a number of long tables, one per team. I couldn’t see all of them, but the Rochester and Calgary tables were at the back. Edmonton was in front of Rochester, and Buffalo in front of them. Minnesota was in front of Calgary.
I sat in the front row, off to the left behind the Rochester table. Looking around the front of the room, I saw a who’s who of NLL people – at one point without even moving my head I could see Curt Malawsky, Bob McMahon, Jamie Dawick, Terry Sanderson, Darris Kilgour, Steve Dietrich, Curt Styres, Bob Hamley, and George Daniel. A number of people from the Rochester scouting staff, including NLL legends Chris Driscoll and Paul Gait, were sitting in the row just down from me.
In this picture (click to enlarge), you see the Rochester table right in front of me. Owner Curt Styres is the guy with the braid. Andy McNamara and Stephen Stamp are sitting at the table on the far left. At the right edge is the left half of Calgary assistant coach Bob McMahon, and Curt Malawsky was sitting next to him (just out of the picture). You can also see Minnesota play-by-play man and scout (and last year’s Tom Borrelli award winner) Jake Elliott on the right – the big bald dude who’s seemingly looking right at me. Hi Jake!
The public seating was mostly empty when I got there, but there were a number of people milling about outside the room. Just before the proceedings began, I looked around again, and it had mostly filled up. There were a lot of young nervous-looking faces out there with girlfriends and parents. By the end of the night, many of those faces were smiling above brand new NLL jerseys.
Around 7:00, the event got underway. Andy McNamara, play-by-play voice of the Toronto Rock, was the MC for the evening, and introduced Stamp and Mearns as well. After a few words about what we can expect (including the exciting reveal of who the first player was going to be… not that we hadn’t known for weeks already), Andy turned things over to commissioner George Daniel and VP of Lacrosse Operations Brian Lemon, who explained a few of the rules. Basically, the teams were free to choose whoever they wanted, but if a player turned out to be ineligible or a pick was otherwise illegal, the pick would simply be retroactively cancelled. Each team had five minutes to make their selection in the first round, and two minutes in subsequent rounds, and each team had two five-minute extensions that can be used anytime. I believe the Bandits were the only team to use an extension.
Before long, Daniel announced that the Edmonton Rush were now “on the clock”, and the Rush brass panicked, since they only had five minutes to come up with… well, no, of course they didn’t. The Rush announced a while ago that Mark Matthews was going to be their pick, so less than a minute later, Daniel was up on the stage again making the least surprising announcement of the night. Matthews came down to the front, was given his new jersey (complete with his name on the back), and had the obligatory picture taken. He then went back to the table with the the Rush people and sat there the rest of the night, presumably providing input about players he knew for future rounds.
Minnesota had the next three picks, and I expected them to make all three at the same time, but they treated them as three separate picks. Brock Sorensen, here’s your jersey, take a picture. A couple of minutes later, Kiel Matisz, here’s your jersey, take a picture. A couple more minutes, Shayne Jackson, here’s your jersey, take a picture. This made total sense though; getting drafted is a big deal for these players, especially so high in the first round, so I’m glad that they didn’t water it down for these players by combining the picks and jersey presentations.
After the jersey presentation and pictures, each player was interviewed briefly by TSN’s Claude Feig, and most players ended up giving the same stock answers. It’s a dream come true, I’m excited to join the team, I’ve heard great things about them, looking forward to training camp, that kind of stuff. Not that any of them weren’t being genuine, and I imagine most of them are pretty new to giving interviews, but you did tend to hear the same responses over and over. It was amusing at the beginning when Feig talked to the first three picks and mentioned their height. They were all 6’4″ or 6’5″ – as tall as Feig himself who said later that it was “nice to have someone eye level to talk to.” Earlier in the evening, I saw Stephen Stamp walking up to the front, and he looked even taller than Feig.
In between picks, Stamp, McNamara, and Mearns offered analysis of the picks and players, and what each player could bring to their new team. Offensive star, defensive specialist, big and strong, small and wiry, hard shot, great passer, even one guy they described as something like “a really annoying guy to play against”, they knew something about everyone.
Despite the lower time limits, I didn’t notice the second and subsequent rounds going any faster than the first. Actually, the whole thing moved along pretty quickly. Once we got into the third and fourth rounds, some of the people chosen were not present as we got into the “what the hell, let’s take a chance on this guy” picks. At one point, I’m sure Chris Driscoll said “who?” as a name was read. There were only two trades on the night, both involving Minnesota and both picks for picks, no actual players involved. I was hoping for some obvious signs of talks going on, like seeing Terry Sanderson leaning over the Minnesota Swarm table saying things like “Sure, we can take Jordan MacIntosh off your hands”, but first off there were too many people wandering around, and secondly I didn’t recognize everyone up there, since there were GMs and assistant GMs and coaches and assistant coaches and scouts and owners and players (John Tavares was at the Bandits table) and possibly other people as well.
The only thing that was really different from what I expected was that George Daniel read out all the names of the players. For whatever reason, I expected each GM to come up and announce their pick, which is the reason I wrote the “behind the scenes” article as I did.
I enjoyed the draft and I’m glad I went, though I kind of wish I’d stuck around a little longer afterwards and introduced myself to some of the people I’ve talked to on Twitter a bunch of times but have never met in person. I know that some people had issues with the internet feed at the beginning, but as far as I could tell, the night went without a hitch. For a league that doesn’t have anywhere near the resources of the NHL or NBA, I thought they did an excellent job – it certainly didn’t look like a shoestring-budget kind of event. For those of us that are not lacrosse insiders, it was fascinating to see the inner workings of the league in action.