SUNRISE, Fla. – Dennis Gilbert was in a win-win situation. As he glanced up at the NHL Draft board, he saw Chicago was up with pick No. 91. The Buffalo Sabres were on deck at No. 92. Both teams had scouted the Buffalo native, and odds were good one was calling his name.
The nameplate the Sabres brought to Florida for Gilbert had to stay under their draft table. Chicago beat them to the defenseman.
“Being from Buffalo it would have been really cool to go to the Sabres, but Chicago is a great organization and I’m more than thrilled to go there and be a Blackhawk,” Gilbert said in BB&T Center.
Youngstown’s Joe Cecconi had his own thrill. He was barely listening midway through the fifth round, then he heard his name called from the stage and was suddenly shaking hands with Lindy Ruff. He was selected by Ruff’s Dallas Stars with the 133rd overall pick.
“Truthfully, I was a little bit scared,” Cecconi said. “Heading into the fifth round I was thinking something might happen and I might not get chosen. As soon as Dallas was up and they called my name, I was like, ‘The dream has started.’ ”
Chicago didn’t have to go far to watch Gilbert this season. He excelled for the Chicago Steel of the United States Hockey League, leading their blue-liners with 23 assists and 27 points in 59 games.
“It’s a dream come true to be drafted by any team, but being in Chicago last year and experiencing the city and the area and really getting acclimated with the area made it that much more special,” Gilbert said while wearing the Blackhawks’ red jersey. “The tradition in Chicago is second to none right now in the league, and I think the dynasty is only beginning.”
The Blackhawks, of course, have had tremendous success with another Buffalo native. Patrick Kane has been a key to their run of three Stanley Cups in six years.
“In the summer I’ll skate with him a little while,” Gilbert said. “Obviously, he’ll be a guy that I talk to this summer about the ins and outs of Chicago and the league and what it takes to be successful there.”
The 18-year-old, who will play at the University of Notre Dame, received hugs and handshakes from family members after his name was called.
“It’s a long two hours sitting there waiting and waiting and waiting and waiting to be called, but I’m just really excited and thankful,” Gilbert said. “The Combine in Buffalo was awesome being in the hometown, going through that and starting college as a freshman in mid-June was another great experience to go through. The month of June has been probably the best of my life so far.”
Cecconi, who played for Muskegon in the USHL and is headed to the University of Michigan, was the lone Western New York player at the All-America Prospects Game in September in First Niagara Center. He thought there was a chance he could go in the fifth round, but Dallas was not a team to which he had spoken.
Cecconi grew up as a huge fan of the Sabres’ back-to-back Eastern Conference finalist teams during the mid-2000s. He said the quick meeting with Ruff was a huge moment.
“That was awesome,” he said. “Growing up watching him coach the Sabres, it’s pretty cool. The Sabres went kind of far in some playoff years and fell short, but those were fun teams to watch.”
Cecconi was reminded the Stars have a dubious place in Buffalo sports history from the way the 1999 Stanley Cup final ended. He was 2 at the time.
“Now that you say that, I might get some dirty looks back home if I wear this hat around,” he said of his green Stars cap.
Cecconi remains a Sabres fan and is intrigued as anyone else by all they did this weekend.
“It’s been overwhelming to see,” he said. “ I can’t wait to watch them next year. It’s obviously the team I watched growing up. It should be interesting to see how they do – and now how the Stars do.”
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