Commentary

Mayfield rises from obscurity to draft

Updated: June 25, 2011, 5:42 PM ET
By Scott Burnside | ESPN.com

ST. PAUL, Minn. -- Every once in a while, Scott Mayfield's mom, Jane, would see her teenage son on Skype at the end of a long day of practicing, schoolwork and workouts and wish she wasn't a 10-hour drive away.

"I didn't like what I saw. He was too tired," Jane Mayfield acknowledged.

Those are the moments that most hockey families have experienced along journeys that for a select few culminated this weekend at the NHL's entry draft.

Along the way, regardless of whether you're from a St. Louis suburb like Webster Groves, where the Mayfields live, from Flin Flon, Manitoba, or from Moscow, these are the moments where the pursuit of a dream is weighed against the sacrifices made not just by young players, but also by their families.

"It's definitely difficult. It's hard to move away from your family," Mayfield told ESPN.com in an interview before the New York Islanders made him the 34th player selected in the draft.

A skilled, smooth-skating big defenseman, Mayfield represents a shining example of a young player whose star has burned brighter later in his hockey life and a player whose career arc does not necessarily follow the traditional path.

Look in the dictionary under "late bloomer" and you might just see a snapshot of the 6-foot-4, 200-pound defenseman.

Ignored when it came to invitations to the annual USA Hockey selection camps until he was 17, Mayfield enjoyed a dramatic ascension that has seen him go from playing junior varsity hockey in suburban St. Louis three years ago to a full-ride scholarship at the University of Denver and a place on the big stage at the 2011 entry draft with a new NHL jersey to call his own.

Scott Mayfield
Dave Sandford/NHLI/Getty ImagesIn three years, Scott Mayfield went from off everyone's radar to the 34th pick in the 2011 NHL draft.

"It was a little tough," Mayfield said moment after hearing his name called Saturday morning. "It was kind of tough sitting there last night hoping my name was called, but I can just use it for a little more motivation now. I'm going to a great organization, great team and everything that I'm really excited for.

"It's kind of hard to imagine before it actually happens. It's all kind of sinking in now, and I'm just trying to live it up, and I'm really enjoying it."

The well-spoken Mayfield knows that he wasn't on anyone's radar just three years ago. In fact, he acknowledged he probably didn't deserve to be on anyone's radar at that point.

In some ways that has made the last couple of years even more exciting for Mayfield and his family. But being ignored has certainly provided a healthy dose of motivation for the big defenseman.

"Three years ago, I was hoping maybe I'd play college hockey," Mayfield said. "Now with all this happening, it just really kicked up a step and I'm just happy to be here and trying to actually take it all in. It's a little hard for me because I never thought I'd be in this position."

Playing youth hockey in the St. Louis area, Mayfield played what is considered AA1/2 hockey (between AA and AAA) and high school hockey before being drafted by Indiana of the USHL. Before he could play a game with that team, though, Mayfield was dealt to Youngstown, Ohio, a 10-hour drive from St. Louis.

"It's hard to let your kids go away," said Jane, a lactation specialist at St. Louis area hospitals. "Scott was emotionally ready to. He's a very self-reliant person."

There were never any issues with homework and the like. Still, 10 hours is 10 hours.

Long-time St. Louis area hockey coach Don Moorhouse coached Mayfield for a couple of years before he went to Youngstown. He was a raw kid with abundant skills, Moorhouse told ESPN.com this week.

"He's the kind of kid you love to coach because he's low maintenance," Moorhouse said. "He loves to learn, likes to listen.

"He's been on an extremely fast track the past couple of years ... I think it's his desire and his attitude. He never had a down game, never a down shift. He tends to lead by example."

Although the family lives outside St. Louis, the Mayfields have a strong connection to Colorado.

Father Andy went to law school at the University of Denver. He met Jane, a native of Colorado, while an undergrad at the University of Northern Colorado. As a child, Mayfield was given a Denver jersey that has hung over his bed since.

Mayfield's older brother, Patrick, attends the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs and his sister, Sarah, 17, may join her brothers in attending college in Colorado.

So it wasn't surprising that Mayfield hoped to draw attention from the University of Denver. It was Moorhouse who reached out to legendary college coach George Gwozdecky and suggested that perhaps he should take a look at the big, puck-moving defenseman.

Then, Mayfield was selected to take part in the Ivan Hlinka tournament in 2009 and was named MVP of the World Junior A Challenge playing with a group of USHL all-stars that defeated Canada East in the gold medal game after falling behind 4-1.

By the time the final rankings from the Central Scouting Bureau were tabulated this spring, Mayfield was ranked 24th among North American skaters, seventh among North American defensemen.

"It's not something we ever expected or planned on," Andy Mayfield said. "This is all Scott's doing. We're just having fun."

Invited to the draft combine in Toronto earlier this spring, Mayfield was the first player through the workout regimen.

He joked with his family beforehand that he hoped no one would hold his nose while doing the exhausting bicycle drill. Sure enough when his parents looked for some video online from his day at the testing combine, there was Scott pedaling like crazy with a technician holding his nose.

Mayfield immediately returned home for his high school graduation and told his parents that if they were thinking of getting him a mountain bike for his graduation present they could forget it. He got the bike anyway, which should come in handy for getting around campus even if no one is holding his nose.

While at the combine, he was interviewed by 22 teams.

"It wasn't as bad as I thought it would be," he said of the interviews. "I like to talk so it wasn't too bad."

Obviously whatever he said to the Islanders was enough to convince them that he was NHL material, even if such a thought might have seemed inconceivable just a few short years ago.

Scott Burnside covers the NHL for ESPN.com.