If the player whose hockey jersey you’re wearing just collapsed like a heap of wet toilet paper, I apologize. Really, I didn’t mean to. Chances are, he had a starting spot on my fantasy hockey team. Or as I like to call it, Death’s Rec League.
I’ve only been a real hockey fan for about a year. Before that, I’d had a passing interest in the Washington Capitals because the company where I worked as a special effects designer does some work for the team. But I’d taken a cue from my brother, whose primary love is baseball and secondary is football; I likewise gravitated to those more mainstream sports.
But those sports’ seasons are too short. With training camp and the Stanley Cup Playoffs, the National Hockey League is in business 10 months a year, and from the day I walked into my first game, I was hooked. It’s like football with razor blades attached to their feet!
In just a year, I’ve come to be the proud owner of three Capitals jerseys, two sweatshirts, two T-shirts, a thermal shirt, a scarf and a hat. When I compose a text message on my iPhone, the autocorrect changes “black beans” to “Blackhawks.” I’ve dragged either my cousin or brother to five total games at the Verizon Center, and I pay Comcast a tidy sum for 13 channels of hockey. I don’t do anything halfway.
But only one thing has really made me feel like I’ve become a true sports nerd: Fantasy hockey.
This was my first year playing fantasy sports. I started with two football teams and finished in the middle of the pack in both leagues, but somehow it didn’t bring out the same passion in me. Maybe it’s because hockey lineups have to be set every day rather than once a week, or maybe it’s because I initially knew less about hockey but have since become fully immersed in being a fantasy general manager. I read articles about fantasy hockey and check the previous night’s scoring first thing in the morning while I wait for the shower to warm up. I even made my team its own kick-ass logo.
There’s just one problem. My fantasy team is terrible. Horrible. A train wreck. I drafted well and made good trades and free agent acquisitions. By all accounts my team should be good. The players have the talent, they’re generally on winning teams. There’s a good blend of veteran leadership and up-and-comers, but they’re … not good. Not at all. Not even a little. And that’s not the worst part. The real kicker is that my team has been as high as second in the league before plummeting to twelfth. Just good enough to raise my hopes, before sending them spiraling to gross DC Metro-like levels. (My team’s fortunes seem to be tracking those of the Capitals, who seem to take most of their games into overtime only to lose in sudden death.)
The players on my fantasy squad can’t be blamed though. Apparently being picked for my hockey team is like SARS for professional athletes. They’re doomed from the second I click “draft”. I changed my team motto to “Where good players go to die” back in October when Zach Parise blew out his knee (he still hasn’t returned).
On opening night, one of my starting goalies collapsed on the ice for no visible reason and was rushed to the hospital. And the hits just keep on coming. Fantasy rosters consist of 16 players. 13 of mine have had significant injuries, with five missing more than a month of playing time each. Every day there’s a new player with that little red Injured Reserve icon next to his name, making me yell at my phone in agony. I’m starting to feel bad — like maybe I should send them all letters giving them fair warning, so they can try wearing garlic or seeing a shaman or something. Everyone I know already decided that they’re going to wait for me to draft first next year so they can make sure they don’t take any of the same guys. It’s that bad.
Maybe I’m overreacting. After all, one silly fantasy team can’t have some sort of voodoo effect on such well trained, upper-echelon athletes. But if you’re reading this, John Carlson, Keith Yandle, or Brian Gionta — you might want to watch out. It’s coming for you.