A fantasy perspective by a "Canadian" from across the pond.
Warning - It's a long read ;)
I moved to Vancouver, Canada just before the turn of the twentieth century. It was a mild December day to be precise and I was excited to start this new chapter in my life.
I am an avid athlete and I enjoy many sports, however hockey was not one I had the pleasure of watching or learning about while growing up. This was in part because hockey did not have any exposure in South Africa, rugby and cricket was the primary focus. I had watched a scrimmage once in Johannesburg when I was eleven, but at the time I just thought it was cool that they were playing field hockey with skates on.
I started work in a call center for a Credit Union in the lower mainland in October of 2000. This, of course, was right before the start of the season and I was approached by a colleague to participate in a hockey pool. The only pools I knew about before then, besides the ones you swim in, were football pools. No, not “American football” but actual football ;) With football pools you had to pick which team would win and which teams would draw. It was a simple process that could win thousands of pounds if played correctly.
My colleague explained the rules, it was a box pool and he said “Dude, all you have to do is pick one player from each box. It’s so simple even a Brit can play!” So that’s how I was exposed to the fantasy side of a game I had only just begun to learn. For crying out loud I couldn’t even keep track of the puck in the beginning. I managed though and I most certainly didn’t need the “tail” that was added by a television network. Thankfully that didn’t last long.
I joined the box pool after finding out that the winner would get $440. I didn’t need to know who was a superstar; all I needed to figure out was a system that would level the playing field for me. I consider myself fortunate that I was without the emotional attachment that fantasy poolies can sometimes place upon their favourite players.
The strategy that I employed was simple; I researched each individual player’s stats for the past 3 years and calculated their averages. After that I researched each team in the league and determined which of them were consistently at or near the top of the league for the past three years. Once I had that information at my fingertips all I had to do was pick the player from each box that had good stats and played for a great team. At the end of the season I went back to my colleague and said “Hey, you were right. It was easy enough for a Brit to play.” I won my first ever fantasy hockey pool by 2 points and was the envy of the call center. I also managed to piss off a lot of “knowledgeable” Canadians by winning; they never thought I would even be in the top 20. Just goes to show that you don’t necessarily need to know the sport, or who’s playing the game, to be successful in any fantasy pool.
I didn’t play anymore box pools after that but I did have lengthy conversations about why certain people didn’t join box pools. The main reason was that the majority of people end up with the same players and it’s harder to win.
My strategy definitely worked because I was the only person who picked Alex Tanguay that year and he went on to post 77 points in his sophomore year!
Another reason that people didn’t like box pools was because it didn’t allow for trades or waiver wire pick-ups. These concepts were lost on me as I was not yet at a stage where I could comprehend exactly how that would affect the outcome of a fantasy team.
Fast forward to 2007 and my brother-in-law invited me to start a dynasty league with him and some of his friends. My hockey knowledge had improved significantly over the years. I had been to live hockey games and most importantly I knew where the puck was at all times ;) I felt confident enough to not only join but to also be an active and knowledgeable general manager.
Heading into the draft I employed the same strategy that had assisted with my first victory, only this time I knew that we wouldn’t have the same players. This is where the second strategy had to be invoked. There were 8 teams in the inaugural draft with each team selecting twenty three players. All I had to do was compile a list of 184 players based on my original strategy. I was also knowledgeable enough at that time to include the likes of Crosby and Ovechkin into my list even though they didn’t meet my original statistical criteria.
I finished second in the inaugural season, I would have finished first but a dumb trade with the guy in second derailed my team. I will never forget that because a 321 point lead evaporated as the season went on and I lost by a measly 37 points. That was the year that Buffalo went on a tear towards the end of the season as well. How things have changed in Buffalo since then!
The next few seasons were up and down, I was trying too many strategies and I was also trying to employ changes on the fly that didn’t work. Unfortunately I also became somewhat of a trade whore! One of the best things that brought me down to earth and gave me a better perspective was joining the Dobberhockey community. This fast tracked my knowledge, understanding and enjoyment of fantasy hockey immensely. It also exposed me to players I never knew about, which in turn increased my trade activity. I have learned since then to “breathe” before hitting accept ;)
The Dobber community has been fantastic, I have not been involved in a forum before that doesn’t have trolls or other posters that feel they don’t need to contribute in a positive manner. It was because of this that I put my name forward for the Dobber’s three-tiered entry league in 2010. Luckily for me my name was drawn as one of the participant’s but almost immediately I thought to myself “Holy crap, these guys are knowledgeable, will I be able to compete?” I knew I had to finish first or second or that was the end of it. Everything was going through my mind; I knew my previous strategy wouldn’t work because this was a rotisserie league. What the heck is a rotisserie league anyway? Trust me I was pooping my pants big time. That only lasted a few minutes because the gambler in me kicked in and I started to break down how the points system worked and what needed to be done to win.
Draft time … strategy set … players chosen … ready to go … what? I’m picking second last! Time to change on the fly. I knew the Crosby’s, Ovechkin’s and Malkin’s would be gone so I used my first two picks to select goalies. I picked Bryzgalov and Miller that year to hopefully solidify two of the three goalie categories. After that I went for players with high shots on goal, good plus-minus and a healthy dose of penalty minutes. Logic dictated to me that those that shoot more will theoretically get more points. I also knew I didn’t have to win every category; I could afford to “forget” about a couple of them and focus on the ones I needed to improve in. Needless to say my strategy, coupled with some shrewd waiver-wire bid acquisitions, and not trading helped me to win the entry division and be promoted to the pro leagues.
This is my second season in the pros, I am still employing the same strategy as before but missing the draft both times put me behind the eight-ball. The stress is less this time though because now I only have to worry about finishing in the bottom two spots as opposed to the top two. I am still not trading; I don’t feel comfortable with my knowledge enough to complete a trade yet. I will continue to utilize waiver-wire pick-ups to avoid relegation and concentrate on winning next season.
Overall my fantasy hockey experience has been an extremely enjoyable one, I have won several one-year leagues, finished in the money in my keeper twice and I am holding my own in the Dobber Pro League.
Not bad for an Englishman … eh!