By Neil Stevens
The Canadian Press
MISSISSAUGA, Ontario – Starting on defence for the Edmonton Oilers, let’s hear it for Jordan Little.
The towering Manitoba Bisons defenceman was the No. 1 draft pick in the finale of the CBC reality series Making The Cut on Tuesday.
Oilers fans might not recognize the name but he doesn’t care.
“It’s just an awesome feeling,” Little said after becoming one of six players to win NHL tryouts. “I’m going to work my butt off so that when I go to camp I’ll be in top form and ready to make that team.”
Kevin Prendergast, Edmonton’s director of hockey operations, handed Little an Oilers ball cap and shook the Winnipeg resident’s large hand.
“We watched him last summer and thought there was a lot of potential there, and we’ve watched him play a couple of games this year with the University of Manitoba,” said Prendergast. “When you’re 6-4 and 240 pounds and you skate pretty good, you’d think there’s something to work with there.”
James Demone, Michael Mole, Matt Hubbauer, Kevin Lavallee and Dominic Noel also made the last cut. Besides the tryouts, each will get a new Mazda RX8.
There were more than 4,000 Making The Cut hopefuls at the start, 68 were invited to a two-week camp in Vernon, British Columbia, last July, and 18 survived as finalists. They were reunited during the weekend, and their friends and relatives were among the 4,500 in Hershey Centre applauding and shouting encouragement as they took part in skills contests that gave the representatives of Canada’s six NHL clubs a last look at the available talent.
A lottery weighted on 2003-2004 regular-season points gave Edmonton first pick, and Vancouver, Ottawa, Calgary, Montreal and Toronto followed in that order when it came time to choose six.
Given the NHL lockout, it might be the only draft involving the big league’s teams for the foreseeable future. And even though they don’t know when they’ll actually get their tryouts, they’ll gladly show up whenever the invites arrive.
With the No. 2 pick, Vancouver player personnel director Steve Tambellini opted for Demone, a 6-6 defenceman from St. Albert, Alberta, who is playing for the ECHL’s Texas Wildcatters.
“From Day 1, I was a bucket of nerves,” said Demone, 22. “I’m glad it’s over.”
Ottawa GM John Muckler then selected Mole, 22, 5-11 goaltender from Moncton, New Brunswick, who plays university hockey at St. Francis Xavier.
“Here I am, where it all started,” said the flabbergasted goalie, who played junior hockey for the Mississauga IceDogs in the same arena.
Calgary Flames GM Darryl Sutter picked Hubbauer, the 5-10 centre from Winnipeg who plays for the AHL’s St. John’s Maple Leafs. Hubbauer played in the ECHL with Atlantic City in 2003-04, scoring four points (3g-1a) in 21 games.
“He’s a Western Canadian boy and a big-time skills skater,” said Sutter.
Hubbauer rejoins the Maple Leafs for a game Thursday in Rochester, N.Y., on his 22nd birthday. He was told after having a benign tumour removed from his sinus cavity 2½ years ago that he might never play hockey again. He was a Bisons teammate of Little last winter.
“It’s hard to believe where I’ve come from in such a short time,” said Hubbauer. “The turnaround in my hockey career has been a dream come true.”
Canadiens GM Bob Gainey took Lavallee, 23, a 6-3 defenceman who plays for Straubing EHC in Germany.
“It’s almost like a dream,” said Lavallee. “I’ve got to pinch myself to realize that it’s actually happened.
‘Your almost in an out-of-body state. I don’t think anybody here really thought they were going to get picked. It’s just a huge surprise and a huge honour. I’m just really thankful for the chance I got here.”
Shaking Gainey’s hand was a thrill in itself.
“He’s a Hockey Hall of Famer, and I’m from Montreal,” said Lavallee. “I’m so grateful he’s actually giving me a chance.
“I’m going to work hard not to make his decision a disappointment.”
Said Gainey: “He was rated by our guys as a good prospect and one thing I like about him is that he hasn’t been to an NHL training camp. He’s been playing in Europe and getting better there. So we’ve got a fresh player to bring to our next training camp and see how he fits in.”
Toronto GM John Ferguson selected Noel, 23, a 6-1 centre from Lameque, New Brunswick, who plays hockey at Dalhousie University. He was a 105-point producer in his last season of major junior hockey in Cape Breton.
“I sort of had a good feeling coming in but, ooh, being the last player picked, I was getting more and more nervous,” said Noel. “It was really special being in that semicircle waiting for your name to be called.”
The car was the icing on the cake.
“This is the best day of my life,” said Noel, a huge smile on his face.
The talent among the 18 finalists was so deep that the consensus among the NHL brass was that players other than the six winners will inevitably be invited for big-league tryouts.
Lou Dickenson didn’t make it this time. He’s playing for the AHL’s San Antonio Rampage after being called up last week from the ECHL’s Texas Wildcatters.
“I gave it everything I had,” he said. “It’s tough.
“But I’ve got something going in San Antonio and Beaumont and I’ll keep working hard until I got a shot like these (six) guys just got.”
The Making The Cut experience drove them all to recommit to hockey.
“My cousin is a personal trainer and he’s got a great gym, Professional Edge,” said Little. “I’ll spend a lot of time with him next summer and let him work his magic on me.
“It’s up to me now.”
He said he never imagined when he showed up for his first Making The Cut session he’d wind up among the lucky six.
“It was such a great honour just to make it to this final taping of the show,” he said. “Going No. 1 was never in the cards in my books.”
Demone was happy with the camcorder and satellite dish each of the six were given – before they realized they were getting cars.
“That was unbelievable,” he said.
He has no idea when he’ll get his tryout with the Canucks.
“The good thing is that I’m playing pro hockey right now and I’ve got great coaches down in Beaumont who are helping me out along the way,” he said. “All of (the finalists) have come so far since the beginning of this process but we still have a long way to go.
“We just have to get better every day. That’s all I want to do.”