What is Fantasy Hockey?
We hear it all the time, even from people who’ve played in hockey pools for years. It’s only recently that the term fantasy hockey has sprung up in the lexicon of hockey pool junkies, and a lot of people are still asking, what the heck is it? And hey, we get it. “Fantasy hockey” is a funny name. Even for us it conjures images of people who dress up like wizards and read comic books in their spare time. So where did it come from? What’s wrong with a traditional hockey pool and why should I start playing fantasy hockey? I don’t normally wear capes or pretend I’m a goblin, but tell me anyway, WTF is it?
Well, if you’ve ever been in a hockey pool, you’ve already played fantasy hockey and you already know what it is. Quite simply, a traditional hockey pool is fantasy hockey. “Fantasy hockey” is nothing more than a broader term used to describe the many variations and different types of modern hockey pools that exist these days. Fantasy hockey is everything that a hockey pool is, and it also encompasses a whole new set of interactive options and rules that can make a traditional pool even more fun and strategic.
There’s a saying in auto-racing, “The day the sport was invented was the day they made the second car.” Hockey pools are virtually the same; their origins go as far back as the NHL itself. Choosing a few of your favorite players and pitting them against a fellow hockey fan’s picks was all it took. Simple challenges between friends turned into larger groups of people all competing against each other, and this spawned a Canadian tradition of getting together each fall to battle for bragging rights.
Traditional hockey pools are a lot of fun and they’re fairly simple. They can take several forms (box pools, draft leagues, etc.), but generally owners select a team of players and then sit back and watch over the course of the NHL season. We’ve played in these types of leagues since we were kids, and we still play in them to this day.
The fun of being in a hockey pool comes with playing the role of armchair GM. Who doesn’t sometimes think he or she could do a better job running a hockey team than the clown in charge of the home-town franchise? A hockey pool gives you a chance to prove it, and the best part of the year is always the beginning when all the GM-type decisions are made. Participation is what makes it interesting, and while it’s fun to passively watch your hockey pool team perform through the year, usually within a month or two you’ve lost all hope of winning and there’s nothing more to be done.
Modern fantasy hockey takes all the good stuff from a hockey pool and puts it on steroids. Perhaps the most important innovation has been the advent of free agency and the use of a reserve bench. Every year, the biggest complaint we hear from players in traditional leagues is that they were decimated by injuries, or so-and-so tanked it and there was nothing they could do about it. With fantasy hockey, owners can cut under-achievers and pick up a replacement, or move an injured player to the bench until he recovers. Instead of just passively watching and hoping for the best, owners can now control their destiny by making line-up changes, the same as a real NHL GM or coach. Decisions are made week-to-week, even day-to-day, and it’s a much more interactive and exciting way to participate in a hockey pool.
With the power of the Internet, these features are all automated, so it’s simple and easy to incorporate these new rules. The pool-tracking websites even make it possible for fans to set up, track, analyze, and play in fantasy hockey pools with people from all over the planet. They offer limitless options for new rules and scoring formats at the click of a few buttons.
So if your league isn’t using weekly transactions or a reserve bench, why not? Why continue to beat your head into a brick wall of frustration over injuries? Give yourself room to adapt, and allow yourself some control over your destiny. You haven’t lived until you’ve experienced the glory that comes with picking up a hot free agent who goes on to score you a hat-trick. And you don’t know what pain is until your arch-rival grabs the player you just cut and the hat-trick is scored against you. Trust us, modern “fantasy hockey” only adds to the fun, and it takes trash talk and bragging rights to completely new heights!
The actual term “fantasy hockey” originates from the popular football version of the game. Back in the Eighties, fantasy football was a relatively unknown pastime played by a fringe minority of sports geeks and stat nerds. It was nothing more than an underground society of grown men living in their parents’ basements in tiny poster-covered bedrooms. Today, fantasy football is a phenomenon played by more than 20-million people, and suddenly it seems like every fan watching has a fantasy football team.
The NFL currently enjoys unprecedented success, and fantasy football has undoubtedly played a large role in the explosion of the NFL’s popularity. Instead of passively watching their favorite team, fans now have a vested interest in every game and every player, and are as much cheering for their fantasy team as they are for their favorite team.
And, not only has fantasy football made the NFL more popular, but it has literally changed the way the real game of football is viewed. Every Sunday, millions of fans wake up and check the latest news, pick up free agents, tweak their starting line-ups, and trash talk their friends. When they turn on the TV, everything they see and hear is geared toward the fantasy player. Analysts give fantasy advice during the pre-game shows, the announcers constantly refer to fantasy football after every big play, stats scroll endlessly across the bottom of the screen, and players and coaches stare dumbfounded as they answer questions about fantasy football in the locker room – NFL players even discuss their own fantasy teams! Some of the various new hockey pool games, such as heads-up leagues, are a complete by-product of fantasy football. Internet giants, such as Yahoo and ESPN, simply took the technology built for fantasy football and applied it to hockey.
So, will fantasy hockey do for the NHL what fantasy football did for the NFL? It’s already beginning to have a similar impact. The hockey pool nerds are quickly being joined by the masses, and it’s estimated that over five-million North Americans play fantasy hockey already. Grandma is tweaking her line-up from the rocking chair before Hockey Night in Canada, and the TV networks are slowly realizing that they will soon have no choice but to cater to the whim of millions of fantasy hockey players. And the NHL is noticing too. It’s no accident that teams for the 2010-2011 NHL All-Star Game were assembled using the new “fantasy” draft.
Are you still only allowing one transaction at a league meeting half-way through the year? You drive down to some crappy restaurant and get together to do your moves like it’s 1987? Are you going to send us an angry letter in the mail disagreeing with all this too? Do you track your standings with a pen, some paper, and the newspaper box scores each morning? It’s time to take the training wheels off your league and start playing fantasy hockey!
Now, we realize this stuff isn’t for everyone. Some people will always enjoy the casual and fun leagues they’ve always done, and there’s nothing wrong with that. But for leagues that use a draft and have a group of committed and ravenous hockey fans, this stuff is a no-brainer! The innovations in fantasy hockey add more strategy and make winning more satisfying because it actually takes more skill than luck to win. And, after all, that’s what it’s all about. Who’s the best hockey GM?
So now you know what fantasy hockey is and where it came from. And you know you’ve already played it. You’ve seen how the modern version of fantasy hockey can add to a traditional hockey pool, and luckily you’ve also found Fantasy Hockey Standard.
We’ve been playing fantasy hockey since before it was even called fantasy hockey, and we’re also Canadian so we understand the traditional culture of hockey pools. Let us be your Sherpa to the top of the fantasy mountain. Tell your league-mates it’s time to leave base camp, the modern era is here! WTF are you waiting for? Next season, put on your wizard hats and join us in the future of fantasy hockey.