Two local hockey players are getting one step closer to their dream of playing in the NHL as the 2015 NHL Draft comes closer. Ethan Bear from Ochapowace First Nation and Jesse Gabrielle from Moosomin attended the 2015 NHL Scouting Combine in Buffalo, New York from June 1 to 6.
The top 99 North American prospects and top 21 European prospects are invited to the combine, where 30 NHL teams interview the players on their choice, and the players compete in physical endurance tests to prove their capabilities as prospects for the NHL.
Gabrielle wound up setting three records in the physical tests during the combine.
Bear plays with the Seattle Thunderbirds, and this year, was selected as part of the Under 18 Canadian Team that played at the U18 World Championship in Switzerland in April. Bear was ranked 97th in the draft prospects going into the combine.
Gabrielle started his regular season with the Brandon Wheat Kings, and was traded to the Regina Pats halfway through the season. Gabrielle was ranked 73rd in the draft.
Both players had a good feeling they would be invited to the combine, but were still excited for the opportunity to show NHL teams what they had to offer.
“I had a good feeling I would go, since I made the U18 Team Canada, and I thought I had a good season, so when I was invited, I was pretty happy, and a few others guys on my team did too, so that was great,” says Bear.
Bear interviewed with 12 NHL teams, including his two favorite teams, the Montreal Canadiens and Colorado Avalanche. The interview process allows the scouts from the various teams a chance to see what a player is like as a person—all year, scouts watch the players they are interested in throughout their regular season, so meeting face-to-face helps them get a full sense of the players they may consider in the draft.
“Each team has seen how each guy plays, so they wanted to get more of a personal look at where they think they’re at, and the type of player they are, where they are from, and their family life, things like that,” Bear explains. “There are anywhere from three to 10 guys in a room depending on the team, and you go in, they ask questions about you, how you are, they just want to get a sense of what kind of player you are, what you play like, and if you think you have a shot at NHL. You mainly be yourself, and just talk how you normally would, but you do get pretty nervous because you care about this stuff, so you want a good first impression. I guess I was pretty nervous for the first one, but after that, it gets pretty easy.”
Bear says he found the scouts to be easy-going and easy to talk with, and he says he felt confident about his interviews. Some days, Bear would have one or two interviews for the whole day, and some days, he’d have minutes between his interviews.
“There were a few I felt good about, but they are all interested in you, that’s why they want to interview you. You’re not going to waste your time with a player you’re not interested in,” he says. “The interviews are really nice, you get the chance to speak well for yourself.”
Bear says that he’d be happy if any of the teams he spoke with considered him in the draft, but he says he was most happy to interview with the Avalanche, Canadiens and Toronto Maple Leafs. Bear says his family is a Habs family, and they were his favorite team growing up, so he would like to play for the Canadiens one day.
Gabrielle says that he was well-prepared to be one of the players selected at the scouting combine, after having a strong season and ranking in the top 75 NHL prospects.
“I thought I had a good enough season where I was going to get invited, and I was hoping that I was, and I’m pretty excited that I got to go,” he says. “I was holding high expectations for myself to get invited, so when I was invited, I knew there was going to be 30 teams there, and they are going to want to talk to me, so I just needed to prepare as well as I could for the interviews and whatever questions they are going to ask, and knock it out of the park.”
Gabrielle interviewed with six teams—some of the ‘grittier’ teams, as he says, including the Boston Bruins, Colorado Avalanche, Chicago Blackhawks, and St. Louis Blues.
Gabrielle says he knows his rougher playing style makes him a specifically desired sort of player, so he expected to have fewer interviews than some of the other prospects at the combine, who have a more generic playing style.
“I think I bring certain things that other guys don’t, and some teams don’t need that on their team, and some other teams love it,” Gabrielle says.
The teams asked Gabrielle about where he grew up playing hockey, his family, and if he thinks he’d make a good asset in the NHL. He says that going into the interviews, he had no nerves, and worked hard to be prepared and well-spoken with the scouts.
“I was going over what I was going to say, and there were a number of things I figured they were going to ask, so I went in pretty confident, and I think they knew that, and I think that is going to help me out—I think I’m going to do pretty well in the interviews,” he says. “I went in there knowing what was expected, and I didn’t let it go to my head. I knew what was expected of me, and what I was expecting.”
In addition to the interviews, players underwent medical tests and then intensive physical endurance testing. Everything from hand-eye co-ordination to agility is tested. Players have to do as many push-ups, curl-ups, pull-ups and bench presses as they possibly can. They also do vertical jump, long-jump and have to undergo aerobic testing and peak power output tests.
Bear says the toughest test was the VO2max test, where the amount of oxygen utilized doing an activity and heart rates are monitored. The players are pushed to their maximum in this test, and go until they have to stop, or are in too much physical pain.
“You’re basically on a stationary bike battling for as long as you can, until you tire out. It’s probably the hardest one,” Bear says. “You go until you can’t take it anymore, and you try to keep as calm as possible, keep your heart rate down, and breathe calmly while you’re trying to push yourself your hardest.”
There is also the Wingate test, where players pedal to their maximum ability on a stationary bike and power output and fatigue levels are recorded. A new test this year, the Y-balance test has the players stand on a balance with one leg and stretch the other leg as far as possible. It’s used to determine balance, co-ordination, core strength, and functional symmetry. Players also had things like wingspan, grip strength and body mass index measured.
“It’s all stuff I have done before, so it wasn’t new, but it’s something you want to do well in when you’re there,” Bear says. He says that coming out of the combine, he feels that the physical tests matter, but the interviews are what leaves the lasting impression with scouts.
“I guess it is all important. You want to be in the best shape, but I think that maybe the interviews are the more important part. They mainly care about how you play on the ice, and they’ve all watched you before, so when you’re doing your fitness testing, yeah, it’s important, but the want to get to know you as a person and a player, so I would say the interviews are more important.”
Gabrielle went into the fitness training component of the combine with the idea in mind to be the best physical player there.
“I knew what I was going to have to do, so I focused on things I thought I was strong at, and I planned to do really well at those and get some first place finishes and then where I wasn’t as strong, I just tried to do the best I could and be above average,” he says. “I did very well at the physical testing, so I hope that maybe raises my draft stock.”
Gabrielle broke three records at the combine, and led the prospects for first place finishes, with three first place finishes out of the 13 categories. He broke the bench press record, doing 20 reps at 160 pounds, with the previous record being 21 reps at 150 pounds. In the Wingate test, Gabrielle’s mean power outage was 13.8 watts/kilogram, breaking the old record of 11.9. He also broke the record for the Fatigue Index, which measures heart rate in the Wingate Test, with a rate of 26.4 beats. The old record was 28.5.
“I am not sure how much they look into the actual test results, I think it’s just a competing factor—they’re looking at how much you’re pushing yourself compared to other guys. I am not sure they look into the actual results, but I think they look for guys who are pushing themselves hard, and some teams are looking at how in shape you are, they are looking into how committed you are in the off-season, so I think physical testing is pretty important for a player like me,” Gabrielle says. “You can quit whenever you want basically, but guys are there to compete, so they are pushing themselves until they puke . . . it’s nerve-wracking and intense, but you expect that from the top hockey players in the draft.”
Overall, Gabrielle says he feels very confident coming out of the scouting combine.
“I think it was a really successful week, setting three records, I think, is a very big accomplishment for me, I think that teams will appreciate that and draft me a little higher,” he says. “And I think I did really well in the interviews, so I am excited for the draft now, I am hoping I get drafted, and go as high as I can,” he says.
He adds that he is trying to stay focused on what is exactly in front of him, though, and keep taking his career one step at a time. He will be considering going to the draft, and will be attending any summer camps he is invited to this year.
“You don’t want to get too excited, you kind of want to just continue your training as normal, and get in the best shape you can before you go to training camps. It gives you a little more motivation to go a little harder, stay on the ice a little longer, but I think right now, I am staying focused on my training, and not worrying about the draft,” he adds.
Bear says that the experience of being at the scouting combine was exciting, and he is considering it another step in his goal to be an NHL player.
“I think it’s more of a cool experience than anything else—my NHL passion has always been there, I always want to work for it, but this is just a step for me. It’s fun, it’s exciting, and I am thankful I got to go,” he says. “The next step would be the draft on June 26, that’s coming up and it’s pretty exciting too. That’s the next step for all of us.”