Pictou Advocate sports

Plunging into a different pool


It can’t be categorized as anything serious. It surely can’t be considered a life-threatening situation. So there’s no need to call my family doctor or send an ambulance. But, if you’re a hockey nut, you might sympathize with me — if only a wee bit.

The diagnosis: a lack of fantasy hockey.

It’s affecting me like a mosquito bite on a hot summer day. It’s keeping me awake at night as I try to forget what was a winter pleasure.

You see, fantasy hockey no longer dominates my free time, a status it held since just before we entered the 21st century. Auston Matthews, the tremendously talented Toronto Maple Leafs hope wasn’t even born when fantasy hockey first struck.

It’s all true.

Just ask my younger son — who happened to be the league commissioner through all these years. He always told me I took fantasy far too seriously.

So what happened?

No more fantasy after stick-handling through almost 20 years of being a coach, general manager and franchise owner. No more struggling to move up in the standings against some pretty tough opponents. No more wanting to own as many Leafs as possible.

Our league commissioner and chief executive officer abandoned our make-believe world to give more of his free time to his daughters’ hockey pursuits.

Good for him.

But that has left the rest of us without a pilot, without an administrator willing to be our Gary Bettman.

There was a backup plan to ease the loss.

A few of us plunged into hockey pools. You know the ones — where you form your season’s roster by selecting one player from each of 21 or 24 boxes. They were available in local newspapers. Nowadays, they’re more likely found in various web sites.

That’s where we find ourselves.

Three of us — including former newspaper colleague Joel Jacobson and life-long New Glasgow friend Dave Scott — decided to jump into two pools. Just not the pools where bathing suits are mandatory.

One was organized by some hockey followers at the IMP Group in Halifax where employees banded together to put some excitement into the games we watch on television. Then we joined a pool that’s a fund-raiser for one of my granddaughter’s peewee team in Cole Harbour.

Double medication for affected fantasy victims like me.

Sad to report, it didn’t take long for me to discover what’s missing. In pools, for instance, there is no need to prepare for a pre-season draft. Just put a check mark beside one name in each box. You’ve got your roster — and you’ve got to stick with it.

Adding more salt to the wounds, the lineups can’t be changed day to day. Even if your players are injured, they must stay in place. There’s no waiver wire in which to seek replacements.

What will I miss the most? The fact there is no trading with other franchise owners – my favourite part of fantasy leagues. Every season I was in fantasy, I lead the league in trades offered and trades made.

Longstanding habits seldom die.

If you’ve seen my fantasy comments in past years, you may recall I wouldn’t be involved at all if I didn’t have a way to stack my roster with as many Maple Leafs as possible.

I’m just underway in pools. The water’s not even comfortable yet, and here I am already complaining.

To begin my rookie campaign — I’m too old to be a rookie, aren’t I? — I did what I did every year in fantasy leagues. I marked X’s in the boxes beside all available Leafs. Got seven out of seven in one pool, eight out of eight in the other.

It’s early, too soon to start second-guessing — especially when Toronto started by winning their first three games.

If kids like Matthews, Mitch Marner and William Nylander improve as expected, if veterans James van Riemsdyk, Tyler Bozak and Nazem Kadri provide the necessary leadership, if goalie Frederik Andersen lives up to expectations, I may have a chance. I got all of them in the pools.

But it’s going to be players who don’t wear blue and white uniforms who will most likely determine if I sink or swim in the pool.

I got Cole Harbour’s Sidney Crosby without hesitation. I had to. I never had that luxury in fantasy lineups. Unfortunately, it meant passing on Edmonton Oilers super kid Connor McDavid, who was in the same box.

I think I did okay. I got Alex Ovechkin, goalie Carey Price, former Leaf star Phil Kessel, Halifax Moosehead graduate Jonathan Drouin, defencemen Erik Karlsson and P.K. Subban, Steven Stamkos, Jonathan Toews and Max Pacioretty.

I never had rosters that strong. Of course there was a legitimate reason. In fantasy, you take turns drafting the big names, whereas in pools any number of participants can have the same players.

I can’t end this topic without popping a question you may be thinking: Why do “old” hockey fans get involved in fantasy leagues or pools? Don’t we ever get tired of playing games?

I say, why not play?

You can get just as much enjoyment from such things as you can from going to your nearby Tims or McDonalds and sitting around discussing sports subjects.

You know what I mean.

As the double-doubles get downed, the guys around the table are soon asking questions to see who the “experts” really are.

Who was the better coach, Toe Blake or Punch Imlach? Who was the fastest skater ever? The toughest defender in front of the net? What was the ugliest uniform in NHL history? Is it better to have two or just one referee on the ice?

There’s no end to the debates.

But they provide a wonderful way — whether you’re young or old — to pass an hour or more with your pals.

Fantasy leagues and pools can do the same.

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