NHL teams have a history of letting staff members or players announce a draft pick to add colour to a selection.
In 2008, then-Ottawa Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson stepped to the microphone to announce the selection of a young defenceman named Erik Karlsson.
But Tuesday’s draft moment took things to another level.
When the Senators were asked to announce the third-overall selection in the NHL’s 2020 virtual draft, instead of seeing team general manager Pierre Dorion, viewers experienced a surreal, dreamlike sequence. Or did someone, somewhere change the channel?
For here was the Jeopardy! game show introduction sequence flashing on the screen with the familiar voice of Johnny Gilbert: "Here is the host of Jeopardy!, Alex Trebek."
Trebek, a distinctly famous and beloved Canadian involved in a battle against Stage 4 pancreatic cancer, proceeded to announce the Senators draft pick, but in a most Jeopardy! way.
"Our category today is the NHL," Trebek said. "And here is the clue for you."
"With the third pick in the 2020 NHL Draft the Ottawa Senators choose this player.
The correct response? Who is Tim Stuetzle?"
Then the Jeopardy! sign flashed again.
Naturally, the video went viral.
Awesome Moment Alert
— Sportsnet (@Sportsnet) October 6, 2020
"This is how you announce a draft pick," said Tim and Sid’s Twitter feed.
"Alex Trebek making the Senators pick at the draft just made my night," said Sportsnet and Hockey Night In Canada broadcaster Christine Simpson.
So, how did this Trebek draft cameo come about?
Senators owner Eugene Melnyk and his girlfriend, Shari Anderson of Ottawa, hatched the plan months ago. In an interview Wednesday with Sportsnet, Senators president Anthony Leblanc said Melnyk first spoke of the idea around the time of the draft lottery in June. Melnyk mentioned it again in September as the draft approached.
Behind the scenes, the Senators’ marketing and business offices made it happen. Tom Hoof, the new VP of marketing, contacted Sony, the Jeopardy! production company, and the wheels began to turn.
"It was a very quick ‘yes’ from Mr. Trebek and then it was just a matter of working through how these contracts get done," Leblanc said.
Though Trebek generously donated his time without compensation, fees were involved in the trademark agreement for the music, among other details. The show’s director was part of the temporary production, along with Gilbert, the announcer.
Senators general manager Pierre Dorion said they received separate videos of Trebek announcing the expected top-three picks of the draft. With Alexis Lafreniere a lock to go No. 1 to the New York Rangers, Ottawa’s choice was to be between forwards Quinton Byfield, who went No. 2 to the Los Angeles Kings, and Germany’s Stuetzle, who wound up a Senator at No. 3.
Leblanc’s nightmare scenario: what if they accidentally aired the wrong clip, announcing a different player?
And then, after NHL commissioner Gary Bettman introduced the moment by saying the pick would be announced by a former University of Ottawa graduate, Leblanc had another moment of panic inside the Senators’ war room. There was no audio on their computers and for a split second Leblanc thought, "Oh my God, this is running around the world with only video, no audio."
Then a whoosh of relief as he realized the NHL had muted their audio to ensure there would be no background noise.
The moment came off without a hitch. And Twitter blew up. So did Leblanc’s phone.
"I’ve never been involved in a truly viral moment like this and it was just great to see the positivity that came from it," Leblanc says. "One person said, ‘I thought my kid sat on the remote control – I’m watching the draft and all of a sudden I’m watching Jeopardy!’"
The Senators, of course, have had their share of negative viral social media events. This was a welcome change.
Dorion certainly didn’t mind stepping aside to give Trebek the honour.
"We all think it’s fantastic to have someone like Alex Trebek announce the franchise-defining pick," Dorion said. "I think it was something special."
Trebek, who was born in Sudbury, Ont., 80 years ago, has deep ties to Ottawa. In 1961, Trebek graduated from the University of Ottawa with a degree in philosophy. He was also a member of the university’s English Debating Society, which isn’t a stretch to imagine.
Over the years, Trebek has been honoured with a key to the city and has contributed close to $10 million to the University of Ottawa through support of the “Alex Trebek forum for dialogue.”
He is also honorary president of the Royal Canadian Geographical Society and was on hand to open their new headquarters in 2018. The group’s mission is to help Canadians learn more about their country.
Remarking at the time that it was unfortunate all the Canadian NHL teams had been eliminated from the Stanley Cup playoffs, Trebek quipped: "Thank God for the Raptors."