Who Says You Can't Go Home?

Old homes, new homes, old friends and new rivals at NHL Draft

June 23, 2007

By Elliot Olshansky

CSTV.com



ELLIOT OLSHANSKY

Elliot is CSTV.com's hockey editor and runs his Rink Rat hockey blog on CSTV.com.
E-mail here!

 

COLUMBUS, Ohio - Few of the players selected in the 2007 NHL Entry Draft were as comfortable in their conversations with the media as Colorado College forward Billy Sweatt.

 

Of course, the Tigers' rising sophomore had an advantage: you could say he'd been preparing for this moment from the day he was born.

 

The native of Elburn, Ill., was drafted with the eighth pick in the second round (38th overall) by the Chicago Blackhawks, the team he's rooted for all his life and a major influence in his formative years as a hockey player. Moreover, he knew exactly how to make an instant connection with the writers from the Chicago Tribune and Chicago Sun-Times interviewing him minutes after he had been selected.


 

 

 

"I'm a big time Cubs fan," the speedy winger said. "They're doing a little bit better than they usually do this year, but not as well as they should be spending $300 million."

 

While the Chicago media were amused by Sweatt's take on the Cubs, they were more interested in how a native of relatively rural Elburn wound up as a second-round draft pick of the Blackhawks. As it turns out, success began at home.

 

"There's an unfinished basement in one of the houses we were looking at," Sweatt said of his family's move to Elburn, "so me and my brother [former CC teammate Lee Sweatt] could play roller hockey, and practice even more. I think it definitely helps us on the ice with our hockey skills."

 

Between playing with USA Hockey InLine, the National Team Development Program, and the Junior National Team at the 2007 World Junior Championship, in addition to his exploits with the Tigers, Sweatt certainly hasn't seen any shortage of competition, and now he's looking forward to one day bringing that competitive spirit to the Windy City.

 

"It's really fitting that I go to the hometown team I've been rooting for my whole life," Sweatt said. "I'm really excited about it. I've been a Chicago boy all my life. Greatest city in the world."


In trading for the pick that will bring Sweatt to Chicago, the Blackhawks made it possible to send another prospect to a home team, of sorts.

 

Tommy Cross grew up in Hartford, Conn., and while the 12th-ranked North American skater had opportunities to play major junior in Canada, it was Boston that had a hold on his hockey dreams.

 

"My parents grew up just on the Canadian border," Cross said, "and my dad grew up watching the Memorial Cup. He ended up playing college hockey [at Dartmouth], but [major junior] was an option. I thought about it, but I grew up watching the Frozen Four and the Beanpot."

 

And after the Boston Bruins traded the 38th and 69th picks to the Blackhawks for the 35th selection, the Hub still has a hold on the 6'3" defenseman's hockey future.  When he's ready for the pros, Cross will don the black and gold of the Bruins, but before that, he'll wear the maroon and gold of Boston College, where he'll arrive for his freshman year in the fall of 2008, a simple ride on the T from the Bruins' home at TD Banknorth Garden.

 

"It makes it better," Cross said of being selected by the Bruins. "Being able to go to Bruins games and being in Boston makes it a better deal. I'm sure there's a little more pressure, but I welcome that."

 

Further down Commonwealth Avenue, two players hoping to supply some pressure of their own to Cross and anyone else who suits up for BC will be solidifying a hockey partnership that will take them a very long way, literally.

 

Incoming Boston University defensemen Kevin Shattenkirk and Colby Cohen were drafted in the first and second rounds, respectively, by the Colorado Avalanche.  By the time the two Terrier rearguards make it to Colorado, they'll be as close as you could want teammates to be.

"We're rooming together, we'll be playing together and we've been friends since we were 10," Cohen said, after being selected with the 45th pick. "We head [to BU] on July 1 and we're going to be living together this summer."

 

As enthusiastic as Cohen is about playing for Jack Parker and going to school in Boston, he's beginning to realize that he may have to temper that enthusiasm every now and then.

 

"Boston's the best city in the world," Cohen said before hastily adding, "Well, it's right up there with Denver."

 

The Montreal Canadiens will also be getting a pair of well-acquainted defensemen in the next couple of years, and that's exactly what executive vice president and general manager Bob Gainey is counting on.

 

"With our first ," Gainey said of 12th overall selection Ryan McDonagh, "I think we could look ahead and match him with our first-round pick last year, David Fischer, and say, in two or three years, we may just add two solid defensemen into our system that could be players for the Canadiens for a while."

 

After being drafted Friday night, McDonagh spoke similarly about Fischer, saying, "Last year, they selected David Fischer, whom I'm pretty good friends with. I've played with him before in other leagues."

 

Just one catch: McDonagh, this year's "Mr. Hockey" in the state of Minnesota, is headed to Wisconsin, while Fischer, last year's Mr. Hockey, suits up for the Golden Gophers.

 

"It's going to be fun to battle against him next year," McDonagh said, "when he's in a Minnesota uniform and I'm in a Wisconsin uniform, but we understand it's a business and we're both going to try to win for our team."

 

And that's the thing. Whether players like Sweatt, Cross, Shattenkirk, Cohen, and McDonagh are teammates or rivals, returning to old homes or headed to new ones, college hockey lies ahead, and that's something that they share.