Kris Draper’s demeanor on the ice with the Detroit Red Wings wasn’t exactly angelic—he was known for his provocative nature, occasional mouthiness, and hard edge.
It’s precisely this edginess that initially led him to dismiss the idea of trying out pickleball during the COVID pandemic.
“I Was Hooked Right Away”
“The world was shut down, and my buddy asked if I wanted to come over and play. I kind of laughed and said: ‘No.’,” Draper told detroithockeynow.com.
“Then he said: Have you ever played? That’s the first reaction when you hear it — no one wants to play. But then (former Detroit teammate) Dan Cleary and I went over and played in my buddy’s backyard, and I was hooked right away.”
A Unique Appeal To Ex-NHL Players
Visiting the PBX website reveals Draper featured prominently alongside NBA Hall of Famer Rick Barry, with other celebrity competitors including ex-MLB players Tino Martinez, Kent Mercker, John Smoltz, Luis Gonzalez from the Detroit Tigers, and former NFL quarterbacks Rich Gannon and Jake Plummer.
Pickleball seems to have a unique appeal to former NHL players, with names like Frederik Modin, Patrick Sharp, Peter Bondra, Paul Holmgren, and others joining the ranks.
However, time constraints due to their current roles limit the participation of individuals like Draper and Columbus Blue Jackets GM Jarmo Kekalainen in PBX events.
An Attractive Option
Despite the absence of a formal league or tour, PBX provides a platform for organizations to bring in celebrities like Draper for clinics or to showcase the sport. For Draper, who sought ways to maintain his competitive spirit post-hockey retirement, pickleball presented an attractive option.
Talking about the void retirement leaves, Draper stated, “When I retired, I golfed and worked out, but (you miss) the competitiveness, the one-on-one battles, the opportunity to chirp your opponent, the opportunity to get chirped.”
Draper mentioned that former NFL quarterback Drew Brees plays pickleball, and he has made it known he would love a chance to play against him. Draper has also played against pickleball pros. How does his game stack up?
“I’m not even close,” Draper says. “Those guys are next level. It’s the same thing when you think about hockey players. How close is someone to being able to play 82 games in the NHL? You realize you are not close. I’ve watched these pro pickleball players, and it’s a complete next level. I’m 52 years old. These guys are so young. When I played in an open bracket in Grand Rapids, I was one of the oldest guys.”
Hockey Players Make The Best Pickleball Players
While Draper did participate in a Columbus event last summer, he also engaged in separate tournaments unaffiliated with PBX. He has even expressed a desire for a dedicated pickleball tournament for former NHL players, believing he could excel in such an event.
He also mentioned that Carolina Hurricanes owner Tom Dundon, who is also involved in the Pro Pickleball Tour, might be working on such an endeavor.
Draper believes it’s logical that hockey players become the best pickleball players because he also believes they’re the best athletes. He says their hand-eye coordination and agility give them an advantage in both sports.
“I was talking to Kent Mercker, the former major league baseball pitcher,” says Draper. “He was at the event in Columbus. He asked me: ‘Out of the four major sports, who are the best athletes?’ I said: ‘I said it’s pretty simple, it’s hockey. I can hit a baseball and throw a baseball, but you can’t skate, and you can’t shoot.
We were kidding around. Football? I can do that. Basketball? Same thing. And on the pickleball courts, we will be the best players as well. We had some nice banter about that. It was a lot of fun.”
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