Way back in June, I had the good fortune to cover the NHL draft in Philadelphia (an unforeseen result of my having purchased an orange car last summer was frequently being mistaken for a Flyers fan–shudder) for the Canadian Press, thanks to hockey/racing writer Stephen Whyno, who in 2012, on the day that I’ll Have Another was supposed to take his shot at the Triple Crown, intrepidly made his way from Belmont Park after the Belmont Stakes to the Prudential Center in Newark, to cover game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final between the Devils and the Kings. He will have my everlasting admiration for having pulled that off.
A rookie at covering the draft, I approached the task nervously. How do you cover a draft? How much did I need to know about the Jets and the Flames, the teams whose picks I was assigned to write about? Should I research the top prospects? What sorts of questions should I ask?
Turned out that Whyno’s assurances that I’d be fine were, like most things he says, on the money, due in no small part to the expertise of those around me, some experience in post-race interviews, and some time spent covering Thoroughbred auctions. After all, covering a draft is not unlike covering horse racing, especially sales: a choice is made, you find the principals, you ask some questions, you write a story…right?
Which doesn’t mean that there weren’t some tough moments, particularly when those horse racing and hockey worlds collided, when the absolutely right question to ask a trainer, a buyer, or an owner was the absolutely wrong question to ask a teenage draftee or an NHL GM.
I was reminded of those moments as I read the coverage of the marathon Keeneland sale this week, and with the NHL season just a couple of weeks away, here’s a list of lessons I learned and questions that, after a few false starts, I struck from my hockey interview prep.
- Don’t ask a general manager about the breeding of #1 draft pick.
- Noting the excellent conformation of a teenage draftee is generally frowned upon.
- Asking if the player is expected to be able to go long raises some eyebrows, as does inquiring about his prospects about a stallion.
- Questions about trying him on grass might attract the attention of law enforcement and NHL drug-testers.
- Don’t take pictures of the prospects sleeping, no matter how cute they look.
- Offering apples or peppermints is likely to garner a quizzical look.
- You don’t need to ask if they bite when you approach.
- And do not, under any circumstances, mention the possibility of gelding.
Happy sales week(s), everyone…