SPORTS BEAT by Colleen Boicey—Hockey pools give rookies a slice of life on the ice

Hockey is not just for arenas and sports bars anymore. Lately, it seems like everyone’s talking hockey, but not just about last night’s game.

The focus is often on a season-long game of a different sort, a game played by fans: the hockey pool.

I decided to see what all the hockey hype is about by joining an online hockey pool at Yahoo! Fantasy Sports.

Unlike my father, who at times tries to watch three games at once and has booked off all nights when Senators games are on TV, I’m not the most enthusiastic hockey fan. I’m more of a playoff enthusiast, at least until the Senators are eliminated.

Despite my rookie status as a hockey fan, I’m finding my hockey pool experience enjoyable. It was easy to set up, it was free and I didn’t have to worry about drafting players or choosing a league because they were randomly selected for me.

Considering, my recent hockey experience is limited to Sidney Crosby’s media coverage and the Senators’ playoff run, the pool has exposed me to players I’ve never really thought much about. I’ve been impressed with the depth of the league and the fact there are many talented players on the rise, not just Crosby or Daniel Alfredsson.

My hockey veteran friends and family have been more than happy to give me advice and my pool’s website provides much-needed updates about player injuries and their potential hot streaks.

In fact, I’m beginning to see signs of addiction in my hockey pool behaviour. I log in whenever I check my e-mail to confirm my line-ups and to see how my players and stats are doing.

Thanks to the pool, I’m starting to feel like a hockey insider rather than an eavesdropper. But I have yet to be carbon copied on the office e-mails or become part of the long, sometimes heated, discussions.

I wanted to get an expert’s opinion about why pools seemed to be so popular, so I contacted Leigh Byblow, an administrator with The site reports participation in its pools is up 18 per cent from last regular season.

Byblow says the site’s numbers are higher because Canadians missed the sport last year.

Rule changes and the salary cap have made the game more exciting and levelled the playing field which, in turn, has attracted new fans and more hockey pool participants.

Byblow also says the pools help fans feel like a part of the action by creating friendly or not-so-friendly competition among friends, co-workers and strangers.

I must confess. I haven’t been making time to watch more hockey, but other Canadians are.

In Canada, CBC’s Hockey Night in Canada’s ratings are up 50 per cent and TSN’s are up 200 per cent compared to the 2003-2004 season.

It remains to be seen whether or not my hockey pool will turn me into a diehard fan, but I’m having fun so far. I hope it will continue to provide me with a new way to bond with my friends and family. And, perhaps next season, I’ll be ready for the big leagues.