The NHL Draft and Fan Fest occurred this past Friday and Saturday in Chicago at the United Center. The Blackhawks and NHL had set up a Fan Fest outside of the arena for those who wanted to see the happenings at the draft, but were unable to get tickets. The Fan Fest was fun for those with the right age of kids (probably 8-12) who enjoy standing in lines. Everything you could do at the Fan Fest required at least a 30 minute wait. This included all of the hockey related games (ball hockey, a “combine”, and accuracy shooting), the NHL Centennial Museum, pictures with the Stanley Cup and the Instant Win Prize Tower. The prize tower was very poorly planned as everyone who entered the fan fest had a chance at an instant win prize, the only problem was that there was only one stand for people to use and it wasn’t working Friday causing them to use a cell phone as a back-up plan. This led to huge waits in line just to find that you did not win something. At a minimum, there should have been 4 prize towers for people to check their passes at. My friend and I were lucky enough to win a Scratch and Win prize of an autograph session at 5:30 Friday evening. Other people won photo sessions, draft VIP experiences and a few other prizes. Our signing session was with Brian Campbell who would sign 1 item that you provided.
Chris Chelios was the star attraction at the 10AM Saturday morning Scratch and Win, which through some good conversation with a fellow fan who ran into Chelios in the Fan Fest area the day before, I was able to utilize his pass. However, due to another scanner malfunction, they were letting everyone in line get an autograph. The Centennial Museum had a handful of historical artifacts as well as trivia and the chance to sit on the “bench” of the Blackhawks with your name and number between Kane and Toews. Outside of the Draft and Fan Fest, Upper Deck had a small pavilion that would let you win Upper Deck prizes and/or get a custom hockey trading card made of yourself with the purchase of certain packs of cards. This was well done and moved very smoothly. Also, next to the Upper Deck pavilion was a showcase of the other various NHL trophies. Lastly, on Saturday Upper Deck has arranged with Tyler Motte to do an autograph signing for an hour. While there was a line for his autograph, it was not as big as I expected. This is probably due to the trade that occured on Friday sending him and Artemi Panarin to Columbus for Brandon Saad, Anton Forsberg and a 2018 Fifth Round draft pick.
The Draft itself started off the way you would expect with Gary Bettman getting a rousing set of boos. He even egged the crowd on by calling it an “energetic welcome” and asking if that was the best we could do. I appreciate this level of “play” with the fans, who he knows don’t have the best opinion of him. The pomp and circumstance of the draft was a fun experience and to see the interaction of the players with their families was fun to see in person. The best part was when it was finally Chicago’s turn to draft a player at #26.
Bettman walked up to his first set of applause and cheering only for it to be quickly turned into one of the loudest sets of boos that night upon the announcement of the trade of pick 26 to Dallas. Bettman quickly told the crowd “don’t worry you get to do it again in 3 picks”, thanks to pick 29 and 70 Chicago received from Dallas. Upon the announcement of Henri Jokiharju being selected for Chicago, the place erupted and you could see the excitement from Jokiharju’s face. After this draft selection, the crowd quickly dispersed as most of the fans had stuck around waiting for this pick. After the draft ended, my friend and I went down to the exit used by the General Managers and other back office executives. While I personally didn’t get any autographs, Bobby Clarke signed a few people’s articles and John Tortorella stopped for a few pictures with fans. A few of the draft picks (Miro Heiskanen, Erik Brannstrom who told me “this is the wrong” when asked to sign his draft position on the paper everyone was given to track the draft [it had the Islanders logo as it was printed prior to the trades earlier in the week] and Timothy Liljegren left the United Center wearing their new jerseys and hats and signed autographs/posed for pictures with the fans.
*Note all images in this article were taken by Steven Holben
Here are some pictures that I shot at the event