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Halifax Mooseheads centre Nathan MacKinnon, left, Portland Winterhawks defenceman Seth Jones, centre, and Halifax Mooseheads left winger Jonathan Drouin pose for a photograph for the media in Saskatoon, Sask. on Thursday, May 16, 2013. The three players have been listed by NHL Central Scouting as potential first round selections in their Final Rankings for the 2013 NHL Draft. (Liam Richards/THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Halifax Mooseheads centre Nathan MacKinnon, left, Portland Winterhawks defenceman Seth Jones, centre, and Halifax Mooseheads left winger Jonathan Drouin pose for a photograph for the media in Saskatoon, Sask. on Thursday, May 16, 2013. The three players have been listed by NHL Central Scouting as potential first round selections in their Final Rankings for the 2013 NHL Draft. (Liam Richards/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Roy MacGregor

Hockey dreams set to come true for top prospects Add to ...

Dougie Hamilton can’t even remember where he was sitting.

“Across from the bench,” he says after a moment. “In the corner somewhere. … I don’t really know exactly.”

But he does remember everything else about that Game 3 of the 2011 Stanley Cup final: the Boston Bruins vs. the Vancouver Canucks. He can still see and hear the TD Garden crowd on its feet for the opening 10 minutes of play as the Bruins stormed back after losing the first two games in Vancouver to defeat the Canucks 8-1, the win the first of four victories that would bring them the Stanley Cup.

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On this day, Game 3 of the 2013 Stanley Cup final, Dougie Hamilton turned 20 years of age. He is now a rookie defenceman with the team he sat watching two years ago as one of several top prospects brought to the final by the NHL in advance of the upcoming amateur draft.

This Cup final, for the 20th year in a row, the NHL has brought the most promising young draft picks to see what it’s like at the very top. Four of them – Seth Jones of the Portland Winterhawks, Darnell Nurse of the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds and Nathan MacKinnon and Jonathan Drouin of the Halifax Mooseheads – were marched into the dressing rooms to meet players who had previously gone through the same heady experience: Hamilton, Tyler Seguin and Nathan Horton from the Bruins, Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews from the Chicago Blackhawks.

“Game 3 of the Stanley Cup final,” Jones gushed. “It doesn’t get much bigger.”

On June 30 in New Jersey, of course, it will get much bigger for one of them, as someone will be drafted first overall and be pegged for life with the honour, either to be held against him or the team that selects him, or to be held as proof that pure talent rises to the top.

At the moment, it is presumed Jones, an 18-year-old defenceman from Plano, Tex., and son of basketball star Ronald (Popeye) Jones, would go to the Colorado Avalanche, which holds the first pick. Or it could be MacKinnon, the 17-year-old scoring sensation from Cole Harbour, N.S., Sidney Crosby’s hometown. Or it could be a turn of events – draft swaps, hunches – that no one can foresee.

“I don’t really worry about it,” Jones says.

“It’s all people talk about,” MacKinnon says. “First or second, it’s all good. I don’t know what’s going to happen.”

Hamilton knows exactly what they are going through. Two years ago he was in these stands, somewhere, watching. Watching perhaps the team he would go to: “I knew there was a possibility.” But he wasn’t really thinking at all; he was dreaming.

“I was dreaming about winning the Stanley Cup,” he says.

For some, the dream comes true – and may yet for Hamilton, with his Bruins even with Chicago at one win apiece entering Game 3.

That fantasy, however, is an exceptional rarity, as any reader will quickly discover in picking up Selling the Dream: How Hockey Parents and Their Kids Are Paying the Price for Our National Obsession, by The Hockey News writer Ken Campbell with Jim Parcels.

Their superb book talks about parents paying to put name plates on the backs of their eight-year-old’s jerseys in case a scout might be watching, of parents who can ill afford to spending the price of a good college education each year on minor hockey, of one parent admitting to forking out $1,000 a week in ice time and special training to get his boy prepped for the junior draft, let alone the NHL.

All this, despite the fact that the mathematical probability of your child making it rounds off easily to zero.

“Perhaps we’ve allowed the game to become too important to us,” Campbell and Parcels write.

Hockey children, they say, are too often regarded as “investments” by parents – and only rarely does that investment return as it will for the four prospects standing, gobsmacked, in their new dark suits in the middle of the Bruins dressing room.

MacKinnon and Jones both talk about how they will have their families there with them. MacKinnon talks at length about the debt he owes to his father, who never coached him but never missed a game.

He talks about how, when he was much younger, he “hated” the early comparison to the other star of Cole Harbour. One article even tagged him “The Next Sid.”

“I knew I wouldn’t be compared to him if I’d grown up in Moncton or Toronto,” the young man says, but he also says he eventually learned to shrug off the comparisons and, instead, take inspiration from Crosby, whom he idolized.

“I kind of looked at him,” he says, “if he can do it, I can do it as well.”

And now he is doing it, but at a cost that goes beyond any dollars or time spent by his parents.

“I’m not going to the prom or grad,” MacKinnon says. “This is the thing that I’ve always dreamed about at the end of high school.”

The prom is this coming Monday.

“I couldn’t find a date,” he jokes.

Besides, he already has a date – June 30 in New Jersey.

A dream date.

@RoyMacG

Follow on Twitter: @RoyMacG

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