Skipjacks forward Todd Hlushko got his initiation to professional hockey the hard way.
After playing two seasons of junior league hockey in Ontario, Hlushko heard the buzz about getting drafted by an NHL team.
"All of the scouting reports said I would get picked in the sixth round," he said yesterday. "The draft was being held in Vancouver and my dad had a bunch of points on his frequent flier card so we went to see the draft in person."
When the plane landed the day before the draft, Hlushko suddenly got sick. It turns out he got food poisoning from the plane food.
"I couldn't even go out with my friends the night before the draft," he said. "But I got up the next morning and got to B.C. Place [where the draft was held] at 10 a.m. feeling really awful. The sixth round came and went, then the seventh, eighth, ninth. After the 11th, I told my dad I wanted to go home. He said we made it this far so we might as well stay for the final round."
At 5:37 p.m., after 7 1/2 hours of waiting, Hlushko's name was called as the 240th pick in the 12th round. "There were only 11 names left to be picked and the room was pretty empty by then," he said. "There were about six people left and I knew three of them so it was pretty embarrassing for all of us."
So Hlushko came to camp eight weeks ago without a contract and without a reputation but not without hope.
"Once I got there I forgot all about the 12th round," Hlushko said. "I was told that making the team was up to me."
Jacks coach Robbie Laird admits he was skeptical.
"Honestly we didn't give him much of a chance," Laird said. "He was the ultimate underdog but he came to camp to work. He impressed everybody with his work ethic and his hustle and he made the team.
"We all like to like the underdog, but it feels awfully good at the end of camp when you can say 'You made the team -- you earned it,' " Laird said. "He's very special. We need guys like him in Baltimore."