SHERIDAN — “I like that selection by the Sheridan Hawks,” Alex Kyrias, the Director of Communication for the North American 3 Hockey League, said about the 95th pick of the 2021 NA3HL draft.

Minutes earlier, Sheridan Hawks head coach and general manager Andy Scheib sat across from assistant coach Chad Bailey in their office above the Whitney Rink in the M&M’s Center and selected goaltender Keaton French via an online chat with the league and other NA3HL teams. 

French most recently played with the under-18 AAA Colorado Springs Tigers during the 2019-20 season and heard about the Hawks organization from his brother and former Sheridan defenseman Brice French. 

“It’s always a privilege to be drafted by such a great organization,” Keaton French said. “[My brother] said it was a great place, great atmosphere, great fans, so I’m looking forward to it.”

Just less than two hours after the 2021 NA3HL draft began, the Sheridan Hawks organization added Keaton French and four other eligible junior hockey players to its protected list for the 2021-22 season. 

Because teams made their selections in reverse order of winning percentage, the regular-season league champion Sheridan selected last in the first, third and fourth rounds. Trades throughout the season made it so Scheib and Bailey didn’t have a pick in the second round, but had two additional picks in the third round, one of which they used to select French. 

After Kyrias went over the rules of the draft just before noon, he announced the official start of the process and, thus, the 2021-22 season. At 12:07 p.m., the Austin Ice Bats selected forward Hunter Sellers with the first overall pick, and Sheridan waited its turn.

A whiteboard with the outline of a hockey rink hung behind Bailey in the Hawks’ office. On it included the information needed to make a pick — name, date of birth, country, position and previous team — as well as a list of 12 players who could potentially return to Sheridan next season. To the right of that list was another list of seven players Scheib and Bailey sought to draft.

Forward Brayden Ring was the first to have his name crossed off Sheridan’s list when the Texas Road Runners selected the forward with their ninth pick. When Kyrias’ HockeyTV feed announced the pick, at a slight delay after the official chat room confirmed the selection, Bailey shook his head.

“We’re coming up,” Scheib said at 12:27 p.m. 

Two minutes later, the NA3HL administrator typed “Sheridan make your pick.” Scheib joked about waiting the allotted two minutes each team had to make their selection before the general manager hit enter on his computer and drafted Joe Teasdale who previously played for the Sheridan Hawks during the 2020-21 season. 

However, Teasdale only played seven games with the organization throughout last November and December before returning home to Michigan because of a knee injury. Amateur players who played less than 10 games with a team, are less than 21 years of age on Dec. 31, 2021 and did not accept a tender from an NA3HL team were eligible for selection in the draft. 

Though Teasdale signed a tender with the North American Hockey League’s Maryland Black Bears in February, tenders in one league, like the NA3HL’s parent NAHL, don’t affect player protection in the NA3HL. Those circumstances and Teasdale’s 13 points in seven games prompted Scheib to protect the forward with the Hawks’ first draft pick.

Ten minutes after the Teasdale selection, the second round began. 

“Oh s---, they’re going,” Scheib said and turned back to his computer after a conversation with Bailey. “Oh wait, I don’t have a pick in the second round.” 

Scheib traded the pick for forward Tony Brings last December, and Bailey rattled off statistics for other players the Hawks could draft to pass the time during the second round.

“I’m not straying from the board,” Scheib said to Bailey. 

Sheridan’s 2020-21 season ended a mere 10 days ago in the semifinals of the Fraser Cup national championship tournament, meaning Scheib and Bailey’s draft preparation had been hurried this year. Despite the time crunch this offseason, the philosophy remains the same for the two every year — draft players with good character who have played in reputable areas and could potentially replace players who have aged-out of junior hockey or are unlikely to return to Sheridan. 

“We had one guy sign an NAHL tender, we might have two,” Scheib said. “We have guys going to college. We did what we’re supposed to do. Now, we’re in the offseason and we’re looking for who can replace those guys and who can give us a chance to win a championship again next year.”

Just as Scheib knew of Keaton French from his older brother, he solicits advice about players from other coaches and general managers throughout the NA3HL, calls upon his former coaches and talks with his other junior hockey connections. However, Scheib and Bailey hold the firm belief within their organization the best recruiters are former and current Sheridan Hawks. 

Sheridan selected forward Gage Gaherty with their 98th pick in the third round, then forward Teague Porter with the 102nd pick. Former forward Jacob Cummings knows Porter, while Scheib’s former junior hockey coach knew of the Hawks’ 136th and final selection of the NA3HL draft, forward Cooper Bergman.

There is no guarantee Sheridan’s draft selections will come to play for the Hawks, and former defenseman Briar Sylvester has been the only player Scheib has drafted who eventually skated with the team. Coaches’ offices across the NA3HL look nothing like the war rooms many sports fans are familiar with when it comes to professional drafts.

But the opportunity to bolster the Hawks’ roster and create a championship program took just less than two hours Tuesday.

“Some of it is a shot in the dark, but you’re trying to better your team,” Scheib said. “If we don’t draft that kid, someone else will pick them up.”

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