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College Hockey:
Vancouver Notebook

— It’s become pretty much a foregone conclusion that the trio of Erik Johnson, Phil Kessel and Jonathan Toews will all be early first-round draft choices.

The natural question is “What’s next?”

When each of the three was asked the question at Friday’s media breakfast, interestingly they all had different answers.

“I’d like to [play in the NHL right now], but if that doesn’t happen I can go back to college,” said Minnesota’s Phil Kessel, who told the Hockey News that he was bored with college and wouldn’t be able to be there if it wasn’t for hockey. On Friday, his tune was a little different. “I have a lot of friends there. It was a fun time last year.”

Johnson, who is scheduled to head to Minnesota next year, sounds like his mind is closer to professional hockey than college.

“I think I could [jump right into the NHL],” said Johnson. “I think it would be a big jump physically and mentally, but I’d definitely give it a shot. I know a lot of top first-round guys have jumped into the NHL right away so I don’t see why I couldn’t do it.

“[Minnesota coach] Don Lucia called me yesterday and told me, ‘Make sure you go to college for a year. It’s a lot more fun than the NHL.’ They’re a little nervous to see how I’ll do. But they should know my decision within a month or so.

“Everyone says that you should experience college because it’s the best time of your life. That part’s drawing to me and as well to play for the Gophers, where I’ve always wanted to play. But we’ll have to see. You know that anything can happen.”

Toews sounds like he’s the closest to returning to college, in his case North Dakota.

“[Coach Dave Hakstol] kind of told me at the end of the season we had a meeting and he said a lot of things are going to be going on. He said just enjoy it and not let it get to your head,” said Toews. “He says that it would be great for me to come back this [next season] and I totally agree with him. I thought he was crazy when he was saying things like you might have a shot to go to the NHL next year.

“But I’m just enjoying this experience. A lot depends on who drafts me but until then, I have a great place to play at UND and I’m looking forward to being back there next year.”

Johnson: Go Back To ESPN

The NHL has resoundingly said that the first year of its new TV contract with Outdoor Life Network was a success. Don’t tell that, though, to Erik Johnson.

Said Johnson: “I know the NHL is doing everything that they can do to put the game back on the map and make it as hot as it is in Canada. I think it would be big if they could put it back on ESPN right now. That would boost interest for a lot of people.”

Johnson also feels that one of the reasons that the other major sports are so popular in the U.S. is because the players make spectacles of themselves.

“NHL players aren’t as outspoken as the NFL or NBA,” said Johnson. “Guys like Terrell Owens, people pay attention to because people like to follow the drama. But I think that’s a testament to how classy NHL players are.”

Taking on Ovechkin

Alexander Ovechkin was awarded the Calder Trophy on Thursday night as the NHL’s rookie of the year. It was also announced that Ovechkin, who beat out highly-touted Sidney Crosby for the award, will be on the cover of EA Sports’ NHL ’07.

Friday, Jonathan Toews, who admits he’s pretty good at the hockey video game, was asked if he thought he could beat Ovechkin. He certainly sounded confident in his abilities.

“Maybe at video games, I can beat him,” said the North Dakota center. “On the ice might be a different story.”

Heaven

This writer has to admit that having the NHL Draft in Vancouver gets high marks. If you’ve never been here, it’s easily one of the most beautiful places in the world. From most places you can take one look and see both the Pacific Ocean and the beautiful mountains of Whistler and Blackcomb.

This is also one of the better food destinations in North America. Similar to the East Coast of the U.S., the seafood is uber-fresh. And for some reason, maybe it’s the fact that folks in British Columbia love their beef, good steak is pretty easy to find.

A year from now, Columbus, Ohio, will have the chance to beat Vancouver. The city that wowed the college hockey world with an expert job hosting the 2005 Frozen Four will get a crack at impressing the NHL crowd. Nationwide Arena and the Columbus Blue Jackets will play host to the 2007 NHL Entry Draft.

Learning Curves

It’s not just hockey players who are in Vancouver hoping to further their career. Thursday night, Sports Management Worldwide hosted a reception for people who have the aspiration of one day being an NHL scout, an agent or a general manager.

The organization’s founder and President, Dr. Lynn Lashbrook, gathered the small crowd together to talk shop and bring together the program’s “virtual” students. Lashbrook and his staff, which includes ESPN.com writer E.J. Hradek, teach online courses on hockey scouting and the business of hockey.

SMWW trains its students on a computer program called RinkNet, using a statistical philosophy similar to what made Billy Beane and Theo Epstein famous as general managers in baseball.

So anyone out there looking for a career change and thinking the sports business is for them can visit www.smww.com on the Internet.


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