UNIONDALE, N.Y. - This year’s Islanders Draft Party was full of faces familiar to Bridgeport Sound Tigers fans. While the Islanders faithful enjoyed the festivities and watched the Isles draft defenseman Griffin Reinhart with the fourth overall pick on the Nassau videoboard, we caught up with some Isles prospects to talk about their own draft experiences.
The Islanders selected Matt Donovan in the fourth round (96th overall) of the 2008 NHL Draft after averaging nearly a point per game in his second season with the Cedar Rapids RoughRiders of the USHL. Unlike a John Tavares, Ryan Strome or Griffin Reinhart who experienced the glitz and glamour of Draft Night, Donovan was a later pick in his draft year and watched the news unfold from the comfort of his home in Edmond, OK.
“I was at home watching the second day of the draft on TV,” Donovan explained. “I wasn’t on any draft lists so I didn’t really know if I was going to get drafted, but I knew it was a possibility. I actually didn’t get to see it announced live on TV…in the later rounds, they go to commercial sometimes when picks are announced. I saw it pop up on the computer and then got the call.”
Aaron Ness was the Isles second-round pick (40th overall) in the same 2008 draft class as Donovan. The Roseau, MN native was awarded the prestigious “Mr. Hockey” award, given to the top high school hockey player in Minnesota and was in the house when his name was called.
“I was actually at the draft in Ottawa,” Ness said. “It’s obviously a nerve-wracking time just waiting to hear your name. Then I finally heard it and went down to the stage… I think the first hand I shook was Charles Wang’s. Lots and lots of pictures and interviews after the pick happened, but it’s all part of the experience.”
Calvin de Haan echoed Ness’s sentiments after being selected by the Islanders with the 12th overall pick in 2009, less than an hour after John Tavares had been taken first overall.
“It’s definitely a nervous time waiting to hear your name get called,” de Haan remembered. “But once you do, it’s the biggest relief and the best feeling of your life.”
And while some players have relatively normal draft experiences like watching at home with their families or being at the draft itself, others learn of their draft fate in more obscure ways.
Forward John Persson didn’t have high draft aspirations after his 2010-11 season with the Red Deer Rebels of the Western Hockey League. The Isles took Persson with their fifth-round pick in the 2011 NHL Draft, but the Swedish prospect wasn’t even sure that he was initially selected.
“I had been told that I wasn’t getting drafted, probably just so that I didn’t get my hopes up too high,” Persson explained. “I had actually gotten out of the shower and saw a text from Matt Dumba (Red Deer teammate and 2012 first-round pick) offering congratulations. I wasn’t sure what he meant and I hadn’t heard anything. When I went to check on my computer, our WiFi was down…after about 30 minutes, I was finally able to check and see that the Isles had drafted me.”
While Persson’s story was certainly different, it doesn’t quite match that of forward Casey Cizikas. The Toronto native was hoping to be selected at some point during the 2009 NHL Draft and the Isles obliged by taking him in the fourth round (92nd overall). Ironically, Cizikas got the call most high school kids could only dream of while doing something common in every teenager’s life.
“I was actually at driving school when I found out I was drafted,” Cizikas said. “I got the call from my agent while I was taking the written test and that’s how I found out…let’s just say I didn’t finish the written test that day.”
Fans in Bridgeport and Long Island alike need not worry; Cizikas did indeed finish his written driving test, but his story is just one of many unique experiences that young hockey players have to tell about being drafted. But whether it’s seeing your name pop up on a computer screen or getting that memorable call from an agent, the excitement felt by these young men on Draft Day is something they will never forget.