i'm not kidding when i say -- and
I know I'm not alone out there -- that my office hockey pool occupies most of my thoughts during this playoff season.
The moment I get up, I open my apartment door and rip through the morning paper looking up last night's stats. I arrive at the office with a load of taunts ready to let loose on my fellow poolies, and I stay up way too late watching the West Coast games and flipping to The Score to catch the game summaries.
God, I'm falling behind already. And my dreaded arch-rival -- let's call him T -- is way ahead of me. I hate T. He's smug, and the thought of losing to him, again, is too much to bear.
It all begins at the pool draft, a process so stressful, so demanding that even air traffic controllers refuse to participate. Legend has it that NASA uses hockey pool drafts as a way to weed out weak-willed astronauts who take too long to make decisions.
We enter the NOW boardroom, the same old crowd -- the publisher, the entertainment editor, the barkeeper, a few new faces from advertising and the lone non-NOW player. I'm feeling confident. I have my latest issue of Hockey News, a list of players that branches off into different streams depending on how the pool develops, and a spare pen. Newspapers, Internet printouts, lined sheets of Hilroy paper and yellow legal pads crowd the boardroom table.
Aah, in walks T. Look at him, he thinks he's so cool coming late, but it won't throw me off. No way, bucko, I've got your number -- this is my year.
As convenor, I get things going. Here's how we do it at NOW: we each toss in $20, choose 10 different players (no goalies), a single point for goals and assists, and the person with the most points at the end of the playoffs walks away with wad of cash and a tiny replica of the Stanley Cup that will sit on his/her desk for the next year. Man, I want that cup.
When we choose our draft order, I'm ninth out of 10, and T gets the number-one pick. (Figures.) Unsurprisingly, he chooses Joe Sakic, I counter with Alex Tanguay. We blast through the first round, but everyone is tense. We only have 75 minutes to choose 100 players among us.
Over the next few rounds, you can already see strategies starting to crumble. Suddenly, that secret-weapon player, the one you thought everyone would pass up, is chosen, and you rifle through your papers (there are too many of them, dammit!) looking for another deep-water catch. Then you start to panic a wee bit and take a top scorer from an underdog team. (Wait, I didn't really want to do that.) Next time around, you notice you're short on players from the West, so you turn west when you wanted to turn east.
It's the late rounds now (is it hot in here?), and the heckling is getting more intense, more personal. T is sitting there cool as a cucumber, but I think I notice a slight twitch in his right eye. Even he is succumbing. The final picks are the most interesting -- these are the wild-card players, the ones who, if they have the playoff run of their lives, give you a chance to win.
God, I can't concentrate. I feel like Guy Pearce in Memento, my short-term memory gone (focus, focus!), and I can't remember who I wanted to choose. My foolscap sheet with all my players' names looks like a map of airline routes, with lines criss-crossing each other. (Hurry up, people are waiting!) For my last pick, I blurt out a name I'd never thought of until that moment. T laughs. I'm going to lose.