Cheswick's Liberati says being drafted by Canucks 'surreal'
The Vancouver Canucks hat sat relatively untouched in the Liberati family's household for several years. It held no particular significance — just another item owned by a hockey-loving family.
On Sunday night, the cap became meaningful in a way the Liberatis barely had imagined. And Mario Liberati, 13, was wise enough to grab it and put it on when the time came to celebrate with his older brother, Miles.
Miles Liberati, 18, a Cheswick native, sat with his family and watched the NHL Draft on television Sunday night when his name popped up late in the seventh round, the No. 205 pick overall. Vancouver chose him, a 6-foot, 195-pound defenseman for the London Knights of the Ontario Hockey League who attended Central Catholic.
“I don't think it has sunk in yet,” he said. “It was really surreal seeing my name on the screen. I remember watching the draft in the past and wondering what it'd be like to see my name up there.
“I think it'll really sink in once I get out there” for rookie camp.
Liberati will head to Vancouver for camp, which begins Saturday. As the Canucks' final pick in the draft, he's no lock to earn a contract, a reality he acknowledges.
But he's closer to his dream than at any point in his hockey career, which started at age 5 with youth games at the Harmarville Blade Runners.
During the past year, Liberati skated as a rookie for the Knights. In the regular season, he played in 42 games, scored three goals, had six assists and was plus-5. In the playoffs, he earned time in 10 games for the Knights, who won the OHL title.
Getting drafted struck him as a possibility — 50-50 at best, he said. He checked the NHL's central scouting rankings, which at one point listed him as No. 88 among all North American position players other than goalies; he fell to 150 by the season's end. And his agent, Todd Reynolds, indicated several teams were interested, the Canucks chief among them.
All the information left Liberati uncertain. To find a distraction Sunday, he and a friend headed to Pittsburgh National Golf Club in Gibsonia for a round. Yet, he still checked for draft updates via Twitter.
Home after the round of golf, he settled in for the night, and as the draft reached its final round, he still hadn't received any news.
Then, with eight teams left to make choices — the Canucks were seventh from last — his cell phone went off because of a text message from Knights assistant general manager Rob Simpson, who congratulated Liberati for a reason that was not yet quite clear.
“As soon as he sent it, I told my parents, ‘I might've just got picked,' ” Liberati said. “Then we looked at the screen, and the Canucks were up next.”
Congratulatory messages — some from close friends, others from guys who sharpened his skates or cut his grass — poured in via text message and Twitter for the rest of the evening. As Liberati soaked it all in, he also began to contemplate the challenge ahead.
“I got a little nervous,” he said. “I'm going to try to go into it with confidence. … I think making the team would maybe be two or three years away.”
If he fails to earn a contract offer at camp, he'll continue to play for the Knights, who he hopes will entrust him with more ice time. Liberati said the Canucks have his draft rights for two years.
“It really was a confidence booster and good for me for going into next year,” he said of his selection. “I think next year with more ice time (in London), I'll be able to show them what I really can do.”