It was two decades ago, but Jamie McLennan still remembers what it felt like to have his name called.
McLennan, who played his midget AAA hockey in St. Albert, marked the 20th anniversary on Sunday of being drafted into the National Hockey League, going in the third round, 48th overall, to the New York Islanders in 1991.
But the goaltender, who now works as an analyst for TSN, can still recall the feeling.
“It was just a monumental thing for me,” McLennan said. “You never believe you’re going to get the opportunity at a pro hockey level, but then to hear your name called is very exciting.”
Looking back, he added, it’s hard to believe it has been 20 years.
Some mornings when I get out of bed, it feels like 20 years later with 17 years of pro [hockey]and abuse of the body. But it certainly went very quickly. I know a lot of former players have said your career goes so quick and to play 17 years, I was proud of my career.
While it might seem that players went through a similar experience during the 2011 draft June 24 to 25 in Minnesota, McLennan said it’s a whole different ballgame.
“It’s such a big-money business; it’s a billion-dollar industry now. Kids are under the microscope from age 12 on because of the technology and YouTube. … if you’re good enough nowadays, you’ll make it because there’s nowhere to hide,” he said.
Many prospects today are discouraged from attending the draft unless they know they will be selected in the first round. But McLennan was there in person in Buffalo, N.Y. on June 26, 1991.
Having his name called was nerve-wracking, considering there was another Jamie from his junior team, the Lethbridge Hurricanes — defenceman Jamie Pushor — eligible for the draft and sitting right beside him.
“When Detroit announces they want to draft, ‘from Lethbridge in the Western Hockey League, Jamie’ — and my heart just stopped. But it was Jamie Pushor,” he said. “I was very excited for Push, but my heart stopped; was it me or was it Push?”
That draft was excellent for the Hurricanes as four players were chosen in the first three rounds.
“I was really proud of those guys and still keep in touch with them 20 years later,” he said. “It’s amazing how junior hockey builds bonds.”
But as he manned the pipes for St. Albert in midget hockey, McLennan never thought he’d get as far as he did.
“There were times when I was a 10-year vet and I was like, ‘I still can’t believe I’m here; I don’t know if I’m good enough,’” he said.
When the Islanders called his name, McLennan remembers the team’s history and legacy going through his head, even though they were mired in a rebuilding process after winning four straight Stanley Cups in the early 1980s.
“Here’s a kid from St. Albert drafted to a team from New York and you’re going to a legendary team — my goalie coach was Billy Smith,” he said. “It’s legendary people. It’s exciting and intimidating all in one.”
McLennan played with the Islanders, the St. Louis Blues, the Minnesota Wild, the Flames, the New York Rangers and the Florida Panthers during his NHL career.
“There were so many ups and downs through my career,” he said. “There are times you get traded, times when you become a free agent and you become scared to see what’s going to happen.”
During the 1997-1998 season, McLennan was awarded the Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy for perseverance and dedication to hockey after battling back from a bout of bacterial meningitis.
He also played with the Guildford Flames of the British National League during the 2004-2005 lockout, and with the Nippon Paper Cranes in the Asia League Ice Hockey in 2007-2008.
Since hanging up the goalie pads, McLennan served as goalie coach for the Flames for two seasons, but was also as an analyst on TSN during the 2011 playoffs and found he really enjoyed it.
“To be honest, I’ve enjoyed being on the TSN panel in the playoffs, and I’ve been doing TSN Radio,” he said. “I’ve just really enjoyed the broadcasting side, so I’ve been exploring that.”