By Larry Fisher
The Daily Courier
Damon Severson didn’t need to reach for the puke pail. Nor did he have to take off his shoes during interviews.
The Kelowna Rockets defenceman and prospect for the NHL Entry Draft in Pittsburgh later this month dodged those bullets and chalked his combine experience up as a success upon returning home to Melville, Sask., on Saturday.
Severson and Colton Sissons, captain of the Rockets, were among 150 top draft-eligible prospects in Toronto from Tuesday to Friday for the annual ritual that includes team interviews and rigorous fitness testing.
“It was a great experience, just lots of fun,” said Severson, the 48th-ranked North American skater in NHL Central Scouting’s final rankings released in April. “It was nice meeting a few new guys and just hanging out with a couple of old friends.”
This year, the Q&A sessions came first and, as is often the case, had some funny and even strange exchanges. Twitter reported several oddities, including No. 3-ranked North American skater Mikhail Grigorenko being asked to remove his shoes so the Anaheim Ducks could examine his feet.
The Russian forward, who plays for the Quebec Remparts, obliged, though he was never told why. Even odder, Finnish defenceman Esa Lindell, the No. 12-ranked European skater, was asked ‘do you have a boyfriend?’ by an unnamed team.
Severson got a kick out of those stories, but couldn’t share any of his own — at least not to that extreme.
“Actually, nothing crazy to be honest,” he said, noting he was interviewed by 22 of the 30 NHL clubs. “I thought I had good interviews all the way through and not too many whacky questions, just pretty similar. They made it pretty easy on me, which I was fortunate to have. I’m sure they just try to bug the Europeans a little bit, and some of them struggle with their English.”
Perhaps something was lost in translation on the Lindell front. For Severson’s part, a lot of the questions surrounded his draft stock’s constant climb since being a ninth-round pick in the 2009 WHL bantam draft; his steady improvements through two seasons with the Rockets; and his strong showing in the 2012 CHL Top Prospects Game on Feb. 1 at Prospera Place in Kelowna.
So how high could Severson be picked in the June 22-23 NHL draft being staged at the Consol Energy Center?
“That’s one of the questions I was asked a few times when I was there (at the combine),” he said. “They just want to know your opinion and where you think you’re going to go. But you really don’t know where you’re going to go, unless you are a top-five pick. I could go pretty much anywhere from 20 up to 50, I think. That would be a range to put it in, from what (agents and scouts) have told me so far. I’d be happy going anywhere in there, that’d be a great accomplishment.”
That’s a range of 30 spots, which means Severson could essentially go to any team. Sissons is in the same boat, as the top-rated WHL forward and 14th-ranked North American skater on Central Scouting’s final list, with projections ranging from 15th to 45th overall on draft day.
Severson said it was difficult to gauge interest at the combine, but his goal was to leave a lasting impression on every team.
“It’s so hard to tell because there’s so many (prospects),” he said, “but there were a few teams that asked ‘where do you think you’re going?’ and then said where they are picking and that I could have a shot with them, that I am on their radar. But they don’t really give anything up there, they wait until the draft.
“They were pretty similar interviews and it gets kind of repetitive after a while, but there’s a lot of teams there and they are doing their same process with 100-plus guys. You’re just trying to impress with every room you’re going into, and just making sure they know who you are.”
The first room Severson entered was that of the Calgary Flames. Admittedly nervous, he said the Flames’ brass, which included former player Craig Conroy, lightened the mood and kickstarted an enjoyable couple of days.
“I was actually very lucky; they were a pretty laidback group,” Severson said. “Once that first one’s out of the way, you kind of get the feel for things and know what it’s like. After that, the confidence grows and you just get more comfortable with it. You just have to make teams laugh a little bit and let them get to know you. You need to have a little sense of humour because they are there for a week and interviewing all these guys, and although it’s serious stuff, it’s good to have some laughs and break the ice a little bit.”
There was less laughter and horseplay when it came to the combine’s second element: physical testing. From bench press and push-ups to vertical leap and long jump, the prospects were put through a series of exercises. None more gruelling than the Wingate and VO2 Max tests, which resulted in vomiting for several of the teenagers — all of whom would be deemed in-shape by society’s standards.
That list included Everett Silvertips defenceman Ryan Murray, No. 2 in North America, but not Severson.
“A lot of guys were, but I was lucky I didn’t have to grab the bucket,” Severson chuckled. “I was pretty light-headed after the Wingate, and so was every single guy
after those ones. Other than that, it’s pretty similar to what you do in the gym . . . and I felt like I did pretty good overall in everything.”
While results have not yet been released and Severson wasn’t certain of his official numbers, some were surfacing in media reports on Twitter.
Chandler Stephenson of the WHL’s Regina Pats was said to be tops in push-ups with 52, while Mike Winther of the Prince Albert Raiders led the way on bench press with 17 reps of 150 pounds. TSN reported the three-year average for those two tests as 26 push-ups and nine bench-press reps.
“That’s the last part, the last chance to show the scouts really what you can do and how hard you’ve worked since you’ve been home for the off-season,” Severson said. “You can’t be nervous, can’t be scared going in there. There’s a lot of scouts, a lot of cameras right in your face, but you just have to work out like usual and be intense, and make sure you are giving it your all and showing the scouts you aren’t willing to give up.”