Draft prospects are all dekked out
NHL draft prospect Nail Yakupov of Russia, left, chases down a ball while playing street hockey with local kids from the Pittsburgh Ice inner city program at a specially-built dek hockey rink on the Clemente Bridge.
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With temperatures nearing the mid-90s the thought of outdoor hockey seemed a bit odd Wednesday, yet the top NHL draft prospects and youngsters from the Pittsburgh Ice inner-city hockey program played a game of dek hockey on the Roberto Clemente Bridge, and both sides bemoaned the heat.
"It's too hot," said Nail Yakupov, an 18-year-old Russian who could be the top pick in Friday's NHL draft. "You can't do anything, even though you try."
The 20-minute game -- street hockey without roller skates and a playing surface defined by borders other than curbs and intersections -- resulted in a 2-2 tie, with Yakupov netting the prospects' second goal. Four other top prospects joined Yakupov, including fellow Russian Mikhail Grigorenko, clad in dress pants and tuxedo shoes.
Grigorenko may have been better prepared for the blacktop surface than his countryman, not only because Yakupov was wearing flip-flops but because Grigorenko has played street hockey before.
"I didn't know we were doing this. It was hot," Grigorenko said in defense of his formal attire. "It was really fun, but I would have liked to have a better stick."
Few of the Pittsburgh Ice youngsters knew of the day's events before this week. As a result, the underdogs had few jitters and any they did have melted away as they played above the Allegheny for two hours before the soon-to-be professional stars arrived. The kids may have been more used to the surroundings, but even they were adjusting to the small playing confines, a 60-foot-by-40-foot rink.
"Usually it's way bigger," Isaac Eubanks of the Ice said. "It's easy to shoot anywhere, but it's crowded."
The crowded arena helped the youngsters, as the prospects easily handled the ball through the maze of sticks but could never quite separate from their small defenders, thanks in part to those flip-flops and dress shoes but mostly because there was no space to run. Furthermore, smaller nets meant many of the prospects' shots zipped wide by inches.
The Ice's Nicholas Stephens did not miss though, netting the first goal of the game, catching the prospects off-guard from 15 feet away from the net.
"I didn't even expect it," Stephens said. "I just kind of shot it and it went in."
Canadian Ryan Murray netted the prospects' first goal, and Americans Jacob Trouba and Alex Galchenyuk rounded out the crew of likely first-round draft picks.
First Published June 21, 2012 12:00 am