In "Rayzor's Edge," the new book from Buffalo Sabres' winger Rob Ray and News sportswriter Budd Bailey, the winger talks about his career, tracing a path from a small town in Ontario to the Stanley Cup Finals.
The News will print excerpts for three days. Today, Ray writes about one of the biggest events of any young hockey player's career -- selection in the NHL Entry Draft.
A car pulled into my driveway in Stirling on June 10, 1988. I was getting a ride to Montreal for the next day's NHL draft.
I didn't know if I was going to be drafted or not; it was exciting just to go to the draft to see what it was like. I didn't have a great many expectations. It's not like I was going to be taken in the first round. I was just hoping to go in the later rounds or maybe get invited to a pro training camp. My family didn't even bother to make the drive. I guess we all felt that it was better for everyone to stay home in case I wasn't drafted. My friends were pretty excited about the whole process. They wondered what was going to happen. The NHL draft was so foreign to everyone in my area; no one from Stirling had ever been picked.
I got into the car and said hello to my agent Rollie Thompson. Then I realized that sitting next to me was -- of all people -- Tie Domi from Toronto. He played for Peterborough and was two years behind me but had a chance to go in the early rounds. We had run into each other a few times in junior hockey.
I "whacked out" when I saw him in the car. It was so unexpected; I was just so startled to see him. It was a very quiet trip to Montreal. I talked to Rollie a little but had no conversation with Tie.
Once we got to Montreal, Tie and I found we were sharing a hotel room, and it didn't take very long for us to get into a fight in it. I don't remember what the fight was about anything in particular. Eventually, he hit his head on the corner of the nightstand, and that was the end of it. The two of us got along fine the rest of the time. In fact, it was a fun weekend.
There was so much going on. All of the players hung around the hotel that night. Agents, players, and coaches were there too. The top prospects were going around for interviews and meetings with different teams, but I only had one meeting. The Sabres had me in for an interview.
Gerry Meehan was the general manager then, and Ted Sator was the coach. Don Luce, the director of player personnel, was there, as were a couple of scouts. I was scared to death walking into the hotel room for the interview. They asked me all about my career, what my best assets were, how I could help a team, future plans outside of hockey, and so on. It took about a half hour. Gerry was impressive but not intimidating. I got pretty comfortable while I talked to him. Ted was the same way. I walked away feeling pretty good about the interview, but it's not like I was convinced the Sabres would take me. I didn't know anything about the process. I was so green then it was pitiful. I was just happy I could say, "Yeah, I talked to Buffalo." It was cool they were interested. Rollie had someone at the draft to look after us, and about four or five of us went out for dinner. It turned into a fairly late night, but it felt good just to keep my mind occupied. Some of the other guys raised a little hell. The drinking age in Quebec was only 18, so they had a lot of fun.
I sort of slept that night, and the next morning we were rounded up and taken over to the Forum for the draft. I can still picture the scene -- I was on the same side as the door to the Canadiens' dressing room, halfway up on the lower section. The first round took forever. The guys had to go on stage and pose for pictures and all that. Even though I figured I'd have a wait, there still was some anxiety before each pick in the first round. Some general manager would get ready to announce their pick, and I'd say to myself, "Is it going to be me? Is it going to be me?" Then some guy's name would be read, and I'd exhale. It would be a letdown. Then it would be the next team's turn, and I'd go through the same feelings again.
Mike Modano was the first player taken that year, followed by Trevor Linden. The Ontario Hockey League didn't have that many stars that year. Darrin Shannon went fourth. I played with him briefly and with his brother, Darryl, for quite a while in Buffalo. Domi went to Toronto in the second round.
Once the draft gets past the first round, the real wait begins. Every year, families come to the draft and sit and wait until their loved one's name gets called, and then there's a burst of applause and hugging in one corner of the arena. You don't realize how long that wait is until you've actually been through it. In hindsight, it probably wasn't that long. The draft was a little quicker back then, since they did it all in a day, but it was awful at the time. One of the worst parts was when someone I knew was taken ahead of me. "What? Are you kidding me? This is crap," I thought to myself.
As the draft went along, I was left to sit by myself. My agent ran around talking to people, and once in a while he gave me an update on my situation. "Such-and-such a team is talking about you," he'd say, and then he'd go away. I'd look down on the floor of the Forum and see the guys who had been chosen, walking around with their jerseys on. I really felt like going down and smacking somebody.
Finally, my name was called in the fifth round -- 97th overall -- by Buffalo. I don't think my whole name was out of Gerry Meehan's mouth before I was at the bottom of the stairs. A public relations guy shook my hand and guided me over to the Sabres table. I met about a dozen guys there. One of them said, "We weren't sure if you'd still be around in the fifth round. Everyone is so happy that you were still there." I was in such a fog at that point, I just mumbled, "Really? Um, why didn't anyone come tell me that?" I called my parents right from the draft table to tell them I had been picked. It was such a thrill to put on an NHL jersey and pose for a picture in front of the NHL logo. The Sabres gave me a box of stuff. It had a T-shirt, some pins, and other collectibles, and I thought that was just awesome. I couldn't wait to take it home to show everyone. "Look at the box of stuff they gave me," I said. Once the pictures were taken, someone came over and asked for the jersey back. They needed it for the next draft choice. "Do I have to?" I asked.
I was the Sabres' pick after Alexander Mogilny. As it turned out, we stayed in the league a lot longer than their top picks. Joel Savage went to Buffalo in the first round and Darcy Loewen went in the third. The Sabres also took Keith Carney in that draft, so they were pretty good at picking in the late rounds.
After the draft, the Sabres had a little reception for all of their draft picks. Joel, Darcy, and I were there, and we got to spend some time together and talk to everyone who was there with the Sabres.
When I got home in the early afternoon the next day, it seemed like half of the town was waiting for me. That was nice, but once they left it was fun to sit and tell my family about the whole weekend. The experience was great for me, but I think it was even better for the members of my family. I was a Sabre.
NEXT: My first NHL game
"Rayzor's Edge" will be published by Sports Publishing LLC this month and will be available at area bookstores.