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Published June 21 2012

Area members of hockey community reflect on their brushes with NHL draft

FARGO – Tonight’s NHL draft in Pittsburgh will impact the lives of hundreds of young men hoping to reach the pros.

An event so life-changing leaves its imprint, and there are those in the area’s hockey community who can attest.

Here are some of the draft stories from the perspective of two first-round picks, a second-round pick and a scout charged with getting a newfound franchise off the ground:

Moorhead’s Brian Lee was drafted ninth overall by the Ottawa Senators in 2005. Lee, now a member of the Tampa Bay organization, recalls draft day.

“That was such a long time ago and it’s almost tough to remember that far back. I was hoping to go in the top 10, and I was not sure it was going to happen. I was hoping for the best and it happened. The waiting makes you anxious. It is the way you feel before you have to do a speech in public. You’re anxious, nervous and excited. They’re all mixed into one, and that’s what it is like when you hear your name called.”

Fargo Force coach John Marks was taken ninth overall in the 1968 draft by the Chicago Blackhawks. Marks said back then the draft, which debuted in 1963, wasn’t highly publicized like it is now.

“There was no experience or anything like that whatsoever. I was working at a moving and storage company and it was about noon. I called home to tell my mom that I was going to be late for dinner and I wouldn’t get in until 7 or 8. She said, ‘Oh, OK,’ and then said there was a thing in the paper that I was property of the Chicago Blackhawks and that was about it. I said to her, ‘Oh, OK,’ and that I’d see her later and that was it.”

Moorhead’s Matt Cullen was picked 35th overall in 1996 by the Anaheim Ducks. Cullen, who is now with the Minnesota Wild, said the hardest part was waiting.

“I went down to the draft and it was in St. Louis. I was projected to be a late first-round or early second-round pick. As it got later in the first round, I got nervous. It is hard to explain the feelings going through your mind. As it gets to where you think you might go, you are just sitting there waiting to hear your name. Each time you miss, it’s like, ‘Aww man!’ But I tell you, it was really fun, and it is a great time for a young kid. You are living and dying with each pick, but it still is an intense waiting game.”

Recently retired Moorhead hockey coach Dave Morinville was a scout for the Ottawa Senators. He was part of a front office that was trying to create a franchise.

Morinville’s second draft with the Senators came in 1993, with the team selecting Alexandre Daigle with the No. 1 overall pick. Daigle was billed as the next French-Canadian superstar, but was later labeled among the biggest NHL draft busts.

“There was a huge debate with Alexandre Daigle, and that was an interesting pick. To throw him out there and to make him the guy, that is a tough spot to be in. With the marketing aspect, they built it up with Daigle. He was ‘the guy’, he could speak French and had a real flamboyant personality. Having a guy under that much pressure, I think really opened the eyes of a lot of teams to realize there is a process for everyone. I thought our staff did a great job, but it was an interesting debate.”

Readers can reach Forum reporter Ryan S. Clark at (701) 241-5548.

Clark’s Force blog can be found at slightlychilled.areavoices.com