It’s a long way from the Dartmouth Bandits to the Halifax Thunderbirds, but at least Brett Draper has a set of directions.
The Thunderbirds made the 21-year-old Dartmouth their sixth-round pick (91st overall) of the National Lacrosse League draft last Thursday.
Draper watched the virtual draft online with several of his buddies and staff from the Junior Bandits lacrosse team. Five and a half hours later he heard his name called by Thunderbirds head coach Mike Accursi bringing the room to a roar.
“I was speechless and I still don’t really believe it,” said Draper, who signed a one-year contract with the team on Tuesday. “It’s a dream come true. All the emotions kind of hit me at one time.
“My friends reacted the same way as I did. They know all the work I put in and how much I want it to happen, so they were just as excited as I was.”
Draper, who has also played for the Orangeville Northmen of the Ontario Junior Lacrosse League, said he had no warning that he could be selected in the NLL entry draft.
“I had a feeling if anyone was going to take me it would be Halifax, but no one had reached out before so it was a complete surprise.
“They had the zoom call with all the (NLL) coaches and it went to the Halifax coach Mike Accursi (for the pick) and he announced it and my name came across the bottom of the screen. All I heard was Brett Draper and we all freaked out.”
Accursi said that it’s nice to have a local connection to the Thunderbirds, but Draper isn’t just window dressing for the professional team that was a major hit in its inaugural season before being shut down by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Lacrosse in Nova Scotia is growing in leaps and bounds and obviously you always want to try and put a local spin on it, but that wasn’t the reason we drafted him,” said Accursi. “At the end of the day we are a professional team and we have to draft guys that we think can play at that level.
“I asked around about who the best local kid was around here. I talked to coaches he played in Orangeville and they spoke very highly of him. They talked about his athleticism, his IQ and his work ethic. Those are the guys that check all the boxes for me.”
Draper said he saw most of the Thunderbirds home games but took a different approach than most fans.
“It is super fun to watch. A lot of people are watching the game happen, but I’m watching the best players and what they do and how I can translate that into my game. I probably watch the games a little different than most fans.”
Draper, who plays defence and transition, saw first-hand how much work lies ahead to make the jump from junior to the pro game.
But this is his dream and he’s up to the challenge.
“It will be a huge adjustment,” said the 21-year-old, who recently graduated from the Nova Scotia Community College. “I think I could compete athletic wise, but they are just so much smarter. They have played so much more lacrosse than me.”
Draper is excited about his first pro training camp, although a date for the league’s launch into a new season has yet to be released.
“Even if the first year doesn’t go the way I want it to, you get a chance to be with those guys, maybe make the practice squad or something,” said Draper. “Just to be around the guys and soak up everything they tell you. Try to figure out how they play the game up there and adjust to the pace. They play so fast.
“Eventually you’ll get your opportunity and you just have to make the most of it.”
Accursi, who had a successful career in the NLL, said Draper will have his work cut out for him, but will every opportunity to learn at the pro level.
“You have to understand there is a significant jump from where he has played to where he is coming to as far as coming into training camp,” said Accursi. “He’s got his work cut out for him but we are going to hook him up with our strength and conditioning coach and make sure he’s on a good plan. Give him all the tools so he can be successful.
“It may take a few years for him to crack our lineup. That might be the reality of it. But if he is willing to work hard and learn and put all his effort in, I’m sure his goal of not only being drafted but playing for the Halifax Thunderbirds could come to fruition.”