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Draft day starts new journey after years of practices, late-night road trips

OTTAWA - For years, Chris Stamkos thought his talented, hockey-playing son Steven was too small to play in the National Hockey League.

So he never pressured him. Instead, he encouraged his boy to just have fun. They both did - and that made all the difference.

By the time he was 14 or 15, the young centre had begun his transformation into the six-foot, 176-pound scorer who was drafted first overall by the Tampa Bay Lightning on Friday.

"We enjoyed every moment of it," his beaming father said Saturday as he revelled in the realization that his 18-year-old had exceeded their dreams and would soon be a millionaire athlete.

For the parents of those chosen by one of the NHL's 30 teams, this weekend's draft marked the end of a long, hard road - and the beginning of a new one.

For many, the days of early-morning practices and late-night road trips may have ended some time ago. But the hopes and dreams were only realized when their son's name echoed into the rafters at Scotiabank Place.

There were hugs, and tears, and smiles.

There was also a measure of reflection, satisfaction and, certainly, pride as their sons ascended the stage and donned the jerseys of their respective new teams.

Stamkos scored 58 goals in 61 games for the Sarnia Sting this season and finished with 105 points. He's likely played his final Ontario Hockey League game, as he's expected go straight to the NHL.

Scouts believe his speed and competitiveness will one day help him develop into an elite player.

Chris Stamkos and other parents know their roles will evolve and change even more than they already have.

They got a taste of it Friday and Saturday: Team executives hosted them in corporate boxes, wined them and dined them as they discussed future plans.

As excited as they were, they knew they had to keep their feet firmly planted on the ground, to be what they've always been - parents, looking out for their sons' best interests.

"It's not the end of the road," said Earl Burlon, whose son Brandon, a defenceman, was chosen 52nd overall by the New Jersey Devils. "It's the beginning of a new road.

"Now the real work starts."

Burlon's mom, Anne-Marie, was choked up - and relieved that the nerve-wracking draft process was over. She was excited for her son, who plans to attend the University of Michigan in the fall.

"Another chapter of his life will open up," she said, her voice cracking with emotion.

Kelly Brittain, whose son Josh was drafted in the third round, 71st overall by Anaheim, said the draft experience was "overwhelming," but just a pit stop on the journey they've shared.

She reflected on late nights, cold mornings, the driving and the camaraderie among players and parents alike, many of whom spent years together playing out of Milton, Ont.

"I think he was three when he put on skates," she said. "It was on a pond and he just took to it. He started playing with the Timbits when he was five."

Now, Josh's work will continue at a new level. His parents say they will be there to support him in "whatever way we can."

"I'm feeling really good," said his dad, Mike, as he hugged his son. "I'm proud of him."

Marie O'Dell spent years taking son Eric to hockey practice. On Saturday - his 18th birthday - the six-foot centre from the OHL's Sudbury Wolves was drafted in the second round, 39th overall, by Anaheim.

"I always knew that someday he would be here," she said. "He was determined.

"It's been a long haul but a nice wait."

Stephen Gaunce's son Cameron, a defenceman for the OHL's Mississauga St. Michael's Majors, was drafted 50th overall by the Colorado Avalanche.

"It's a big day," he said. "It's the culmination of his dream - till now. But all the hard work will begin again.

"As parents, it's a great feeling. He started out playing Mite house league in Markham. . . . He was falling all over the ice, but he always wanted to go."

Dennis and Nicole Beskorowany were particularly proud of son Tyler and how far he's come: As a junior, the six-foot-four, 203-pound goaltender was drafted in the 14th round by the OHL's Owen Sound Attack. On Saturday, the Dallas Stars took him in the second round, 59th overall.

His father said his boy's improvement and success were the products of "a lot of hard work and dedication."

"It's been a long process," said Nicole Beskorowany. "He's worked really, really hard and had a lot of successes through the years.

"But he's also had a few challenges and he's managed to work his way through those challenges to get himself where he is today."

Added his father: "We're very proud of what he's been able to accomplish."


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