Brendan Brisson’s body went numb.
The freshman forward had just been selected 29th overall in the 2020 NHL draft by the Vegas Golden Knights, and he couldn’t manage a smile. He was in shock. It took until he stood up and hugged his family for the magnitude of what had just occurred to sink in.
“Just being able to be there sitting next to my family, hearing your name called, was just something I never really experienced before, like a feeling I’ve never had before,” Brisson said. “And I mean, for sure, put a smile on my face for really a long time. So it was unreal.”
For freshman forward Thomas Bordeleau, draft day went a little different. Unlike Brisson, whose family came to Ann Arbor and threw a draft party for him at the Big House, Bordeleau went home to Montreal to be with his family. But when the San Jose Sharks selected him with the 38th pick, his reaction was nearly identical to Brisson’s.
“I think just going back home, spending some time with them, and hearing my name getting called by the Sharks, I think it was really a proud moment for me and my entire family,” Bordeleau said. “It’s definitely something me and (Brisson) are gonna remember for a long time.”
For both Brisson and Bordeleau, the draft was a culmination of a long, unique pre-draft process. Typically, the draft takes place at the end of June, but when the NHL opted to resume its season at the beginning of August, it was pushed back to Oct. 6-7, after the season. The extra time before the draft was an odd period for the duo, with teams keeping in touch less than they typically would.
“When the draft was supposed to be the 26th of June, even when I was back home I was talking to a lot of teams, pretty much like every team like once or twice,” Brisson said. “And then when the draft got moved back there was a really really long dry period where I didn’t really hear from any teams.”
With no combine to showcase their skills and the cancellation of junior hockey seasons, Brisson and Bordeleau were left to train and focus on the draft by themselves.
“In most people’s draft years, you have the combine, you have the draft, then you have the player development camps, and that’s basically not really a summer,” Brisson said. “You’re always running around everywhere, you don’t get that much time to work on your game or be in the weight room. So it really gave us a lot of time to be with our family, be back home, enjoy all that, and also, you know, skate and train back home a lot.”
Most of all, despite all of the changes to the draft, Brisson and Bordeleau just tried to soak it all in. Because the COVID-19 pandemic forced the NHL to shift the draft to an all-remote format, neither could attend the draft in person, like prospects typically do. For Bordeleau, not being able to attend the draft was a bit of a letdown, especially because it would have been in his hometown of Montreal. But even though it wasn’t the draft day they envisioned, it didn’t impact how special it was.
“There’s so much pressure and so much hype on these young, young people with any draft and obviously for them with the NHL draft” Michigan coach Mel Pearson said. “So we just tried to tell them to enjoy the experience.”
“I think it was still a good experience,” Bordeleau added. “Of course it’s a bummer cause it wasn’t live, but we got a good thing out of it.”
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