My mom entered me into a promotion sponsored by Upper Deck trading cards to be a Draft Runner at the 2012 NHL Draft in Pittsburgh. I didn’t know she had done this and when she told me that we won while on vacation, I wanted to go home right away so I could tell all my friends. I am a HUGE hockey fan so for me, this was a dream come true.
My 2012 NHL Draft experience began on Wednesday when I went to the Consol Energy Center to obtain my credential. At that moment it suddenly all felt very real, I was going to be a part of one of the biggest NHL events of the year!
And then I got my first taste of what it’s like to be a player in the NHL as I got to spend some time with the media. I was interviewed by Meredith Qualls of the Pittsburgh Tribune Review for a story on how I won the Upper Deck Draft Runner Contest. That evening I was asked to be on Card Board Connection Radio with Rob Bertrand and Doug Cataldo. I was a little nervous at first then I felt better as I realized it was just talking about my family and hockey. It was my first time on the radio; awesome!
On Thursday I attended the NHL Runner’s meeting to learn about my duties, schedule and dress code. I was thrilled to be assigned to the Tampa Bay Lighting team! My 2 favorite players from the Lightning are Vincent Lecavalier and Martin St. Louis. Only the media was at Consol at that point so after the meeting we were allowed to walk around. You could feel the energy in the arena as I realized every NHL coach, general manager and all the draft picks would be here in less than twenty four hours.
It was also very cool to walk through the entrance to the Pittsburgh Penguins tunnel where they enter and exit during game time. My mom and I walked around the entire arena checking everything out. I was so excited that I had a hard time sleeping Thursday night. I called all of my family and friends to have them record the NHL Draft just in case they could catch a glimpse of me.
I woke up on Friday and realized this was the big day. I did not have to report to the arena until 6:00 p.m. so it felt like the longest day of my life! Ray Fittipaldo from The Pittsburgh Post Gazette called and requested an interview before the Draft. I could get used to all this attention!
Before the 2012 NHL Draft began, I went to the Dick’s Sporting Goods booth to try out the new CCM Taylor Made Hockey stick – it was unbelievable! I shot a puck 48 MPH! I stopped to see Ken Amorosa at Steel City Collectibles who my mom submitted my entry through. He got a big hug for helping me get this opportunity!
I dropped in to introduce myself in person to Cardboard Connection Radio with Rob and Doug and they put me on the air! And last, but not lest, I stopped by the Upper Deck Booth to thank Dianne and Ryan for the great opportunity. Diane gave me a ton of hockey cards, what a great way to expand my collection! Dianne had an Upper Deck NHL Draft card made of me in a Penguins jersey right on the spot. I was so pumped!
It was time to start my duties so off to the Consol Energy floor I went! My mom gave me a big hug and gave me some instructions, “Be a gentleman, use your manners and enjoy ever minute of this!” I walked over to the Tampa Bay Lightning table and the introduced myself to Guy Boucher (Tampa Bay Head Coach), Steve Yzerman (Vice President and General Manager), Pat Verbeek (Assistant General Manager and Director of Player Personnel) and Al Murray (Director of Amateur Scouting). Never in a million years would I have thought I would be sitting at a table with Steve Yzerman; boy was I intimidated! I kept my cool, but I was really nervous.
The Tampa Bay Lightning executives and staff made me feel right at home with them. Mr. Murray in particular was very nice and asked me a lot of questions. My main duties were to deliver refreshments for the table. All of the draft selections are electronic now so I didn’t have to run a paper back and forth to the main NHL desk any longer.
Tampa Bay had 2 picks in the first round and took Slater Koekkoek at #10 and Andrei Vasilevski at #19. These are names I am still learning to pronounce. It was exciting waiting to see who would be drafted to each team and watching the family’s expressions as their relative’s names were announced. I did whatever I was asked and it was a really awesome experience. At the end of the night, I thanked all the Tampa Bay guys and told them I would see them in the morning.
As I was going to meet my mom, I looked up and there stood my favorite NHL player of all time; Mario Lemieux! I was in shock! I told him, “I love you and I love hockey!” Mario said, “I love hockey too buddy.” Luckily my mom was right there and took a picture. It was a moment I will never forget.
As any good card collector knows, never leave home without your favorite player’s cards because you never know when you might meet them. As luck would have it, I was prepared!
I also met Dan Bylsma, Head Coach of the Pittsburgh Penguins. I informed him I am attending his hockey camp in July. He said, “I’ll be looking for you!” Friday night was one of the most memorable nights of my life. I could not wait to see what Saturday would bring.
I had to be at the arena 9:00 a.m. I stopped by the Upper Deck booth to check in with Dianne and to tell her about my experiences from the night before. I went to the floor and resumed my duties for Tampa Bay. While walking the floor, I bumped into Billy Guerin who is a retired Pittsburgh Penguin and current Player Development Coach for the Pens. It was another “wow” moment for me.
All of their draft-picks came by our table to meet the executives and the coaching staff. I was able to meet them also and they signed my Tampa Bay jersey! Maybe one of them will be the next Vincent Lecavalier!
Thank you mom for entering my in this contest. Thank You Steel City Collectibles for submitting the entry. Thank you Upper Deck for offering me this once in a lifetime experience that I will never forget! Thank you Tampa Bay Lightning for letting me serve as your Draft Runner! And thank you Pittsburgh for hosting an amazing NHL Draft!