(Ed. Note: Written earlier, posted when Internet access has been re-established.)
It's about 10:30 a.m. and I'm sitting in a Columbus airport that has a Cinnabon to Wendy's ratio of about 0:12, or so it would seem. I feel like garbage -- not enough sleep, not enough down time, and I have more vodka in my system than a distillery in Ukraine. Such is life after the first round of the NHL Draft.
Quite the party scene last night in C'bus, hours after the Phoenix Coyotes drafted some player who'll be paying to watch the 29 guys taken before him by the time he's 26. I imagine it's the same sort of vibe you get at other drafts or all-star games or championships: These random double-takes as you spot a famous face or a face you can only assume should be famous. Like, for example, bumping into Cam Neely at a crosswalk as you're headed to the bars and he's headed to wherever a guy like Cam Neely goes. You exchange small talk, chat about the Bruins' top pick and greet each other a pleasant evening -- it all happens so fast, you don't even have time to crack a "kick his ass, Sea Bass" joke.
Spotted a few first-rounders outside the arena. Thomas Hickey -- Los Angeles's bit-of-a-reach pick, No. 4 overall, which knocked mock drafters on their collective ass -- was walking around Nationwide with his "07" Kings jersey draped over his shoulder, getting some attention from fans. Some other prospects made their way to other late night entertainment venues; such as Spice Bar & Lounge, where me and the boys from The Fourth Period Radio Show set up camp. I can only assume that since there wasn't anyone taken in the first round over the age of 21, this was obviously just an educational experience filled with milk, cookies and scores of appreciative young blondes eager to serve as the unofficial welcoming committee for these upstanding young gentlemen.
Here's what I learned about Columbus, and life in general, over the last 24 hours:
It's a great hockey town. Seriously, anyone who thinks giving this city an NHL franchise was a mistake should take a Rick Nash slapshot to the face -- if he's healthy enough to take one. The fans packed the arena for the draft and the Columbus Dispatch put hockey on the cover of the sports section, giving a full-color page of coverage to the entire first round of the draft. This franchise is one good playoff run away from becoming a sensation here.
One more thing about the fans: They get it. They booed everyone they're supposed to boo last night -- the division rivals, the Rangers and Flyers, Gary Bettman -- and absolutely made the joint deafening when their boys were up. (And thanks to the Army of the Ohio and friends for a little blogger get-together before the draft.)
These players are kids, and they're like kids in a candy store when it comes to draft day. Every one of them was practically gleeful, even when peppered with questions by some idiot asking if they prefer Batman, Superman or Spider-Man. They grin, they bear it and they even pose for silly portrait shots like Keaton Ellerby's above, which are about 10 shades more disturbing than that photo of Costanza flexing on the couch.
The lack of any real blockbuster trades last night was stunning, outside of the goalie swaps before the draft. I like Tomas Vokoun in Florida better than I like Chris Mason without Vokoun in Nashville. Vesa Toskala must be questioning the existence of a higher power after getting traded to the Leafs; the kid goes from one goaltending schmoz to another, only this time it'll happen within the context of Toronto's media machine. He's too good to constantly have to compete for a job.
Finally, you know you've knocked back a few when you stumble back to the hotel, collapse in the bed, turn on the TV and start questioning your sanity as you watch the guy from "Fargo" getting chased by a dinosaur -- until you remember that, indeed, they did actually make a "Jurassic Park III."