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Thunderbirds Tyrel Bauer and Matthew Rempe picked back-to-back in NHL Draft

Thunderbirds center Matthew Rempe became one of two Seattle players picked in Wednesday's 2020 NHL Draft. (Brian Liesse/T-Birds)

Draft day is what every young hockey player dreams about. Its what all the hard work and sacrifice points towards. It’s the dream of seeing your name on television next to the logo of an NHL team, indicating that you’ve been chosen.

For Thunderbirds forward Matthew Rempe, that day came Wednesday. He didn’t see it happen.

He was watching the Draft with his family in Calgary and when teammate Tyrel Bauer was selected by the Winnipeg Jets with pick number 164, Rempe celebrated with his family and didn’t notice his name on the screen moments later for the very next pick, this time by the New York Rangers.

“I was so excited I was jumping up, my family was excited,” Rempe said. “I didn’t see it. I got tackled by my sister who told me I got picked.”

The two Thunderbirds picked back-to-back were the only Seattle players chosen Wednesday and relived a ton of nerves.

Thanks to the Covid pandemic, the draft was pushed from its normal June date to October. That made the wait for Bauer and Rempe long. Longer than expected. The wait wasn’t over Wednesday as the online nature of the draft caused it to last hours past its normal running time.

They had to wait nearly five hours to see their names.

“It was agonizing, every minute,” Bauer said with a chuckle.

Seattle’s second-round pick in the 2017 WHL Bantam Draft, Bauer started on the Thunderbirds blue line in his rookie year and became a top-pair defenseman this past season. He’s got the size at 6-foot-3 and plays an old school, physical defensive game.

It’s a game that drew the attention of the Jets.

“He knows what he is, and he does what he does really well,” Seattle general manager Bil la Forge said. “He went ahead of some pretty good defenseman. There’s a whole world of defensemen and to be in the top 160 players of all nationalities and different age groups, to be in that group, is exceptional.”

Bauer has emerged as a leader with the Thunderbirds, wearing the ‘A’ on his jersey as an alternate captain last year at 17-years-old. He dealt with the scrutiny and nerves of the draft for over a year, starting when he was invited to Canada’s Hlinka-Gretzky camp last summer.

Finally, those nerves turned to relief.

“It was a feeling that I won’t forget,” Bauer said. “The feelings before and the feelings after, I won’t forget. This day has been circled on my calendar for four years now and to finally have it happen after you have to play with the draft in the back of your head, it can take a toll on you. It’s relieving and exciting at the same time.”

Rempe was equally as nervous.

As the draft crept along at a slower than snail’s pace, the 6-foot-8 center decided to take a walk somewhere around the third round. He says he walked a kilometer to help dull the nerves.

It didn’t really work but the day ended with him a member of the New York Rangers organization.

“This means so much to me and my family,” Rempe said. “I’ve gone through a lot but I think it made me stronger. I think it made me more hungry. I can’t wait to back to the gym tomorrow. Now I want to prove myself. I just want to go and have an amazing season and pass more people. My goal is to pass people who were taking ahead of me. I want to outwork them. It’s a great feeling when you start to have success.”

Rempe has dealt with setbacks over the past few years but kept working.

He wasn’t drafted in the WHL Bantam Draft but earned a spot on the Seattle roster last season, a year after he was the last cut in training camp. Injured in the final preseason game, Rempe had to sit out the first part of the season but once back, he caught the attention of scouts early on.

His size and ability propelled him to 12 goals and 31 points in 47 games. He heard from a scout four games into his season and the phone rang all summer.

“I think the Rangers got themselves a steal,” La Forge said. “I thought he had a chance to go significantly earlier than he did. I was really excited, and he has a chance to play for a storied franchise. I sent him a text and said ‘the Big Apple just got bigger’. I think we’ve just scratched the surface with him last year. There’s no one with that mixture of tools that he has. He’s big, he can skate, and he also has the ability to put the puck in the net.”

Earlier in the very long day, Seattle’s 2020 CHL Import pick, Samual Knazko was taken by the Columbus Blue Jackets in the third round, pick 78.

The puck-moving defenseman has been playing in Finland and has yet to sign with the Thunderbirds but La Forge says that the possibility he does so still exists.

“Every conversation we’ve had with him, he’s very excited to come over and play,” La Forge said. “Now it’s just a matter of dealing with Columbus and his agency and his club in Finland. I’m not promising anything, but I think we have a really good chance of obtaining a really good player.”

Bauer and Rempe normally would have been invited to a rookie development camp but those have been put on hold indefinitely. For now, the pair will keep working and wait to get the green light to join their NHL teams in a training camp before hopefully resuming their WHL careers in Seattle for at least one more season.