Diary of a Fantasy Player: Pregame
“Hey, Chris, uh, do you need me to announce the alumni fantasy game?”
“Nope, we’re covered. You can take that game off.”
With that, the wheels started turning.
Let me back up a bit, by way of introduction. I’m Wade. Some folks may know me (or my voice) as the surprise selection for the new public address announcer at PNC Arena (I was as surprised as anyone). My day job is as a technology executive/programmer/sysadmin for a local internet startup. But what’s relevant to this article is that I’m a Hurricanes fan. I started following hockey while in college at William & Mary, where my friends were almost universally both from Northern Virginia and Capitals fans. But I moved to Raleigh in February of 1999, just before the Canes left Greensboro for their new home. After attending the first game at the then-ESA, I fell in love with the sport and the team. I’ve been a regular in Section 328 for quite a while.
I also picked up playing adult hockey about a decade or so ago. As I tend to physically match most of the stereotypes of computer nerds, I’m not the most athletic guy in the world. My last foray into any sort of competitive sport was a season of Babe Ruth baseball when I was 16. My career ended with one hit, one run scored, and I missed the only game our team won that year. Yeah. And growing up in the middle of nowhere in Southside Virginia, the only place you’d see a hockey jersey was when the one new kid who had lived in the city wanted to show off by wearing one. Hockey was that thing you might pass briefly by on ESPN, watch five minutes, get confused, and move on. But after seeing the Canes storm the crease like bumblebees for a few years, I got the itch. Even my wife (who grew up in the same town, and joined me in Raleigh saying “Hockey is stupid, why would I want to go to a hockey game?”) was hooked after seeing about three games in person.
Taking some learn-to-skate and learn-to-play classes, I got onto a team and played off-and-on for a while. I took some time off when I lived in San Antonio, because there was only one sheet of ice and one adult league in town, and it was filled with everyone from ex-AHL’ers to beer-league schlubs like me. Nope. But I’ve been in a rhythm the past few years, playing in the lowest-level league on Monday nights in Wake Forest.
Now, nobody will mistake me for a prospect. I’m basically the Jeff Daniels of my team – a 3rd/4th line winger with more heart than goals, willing to crash the net and screen the goalie, and picking up (on average) about a point a season. It’s hard and fun and frustrating and beautiful and I look forward to it every week. As an aside, if you love the game, take some classes and give it a shot. It’s amazingly fun and, if I can go from not being able to stay upright on skates to playing weekly, you can too! Seriously – give it a try: I had literally never been on ice skates before my mid-20s and was pushing 30 before I could stop on the ice.
With that level of playing ability, or lack thereof, I’ve had my eye on the Hurricanes’ annual alumni fantasy game for a while. I can skate! Even backwards! I can do this! Every year, I’ve thought “I should play in that”, and every year I’ve been a responsible adult and used that money on something else. Even as the price rose every year and I kicked myself for not getting in when it was cheaper. My old Red Hat coworker Jay Madison played a few years ago, and I was incredibly jealous of him (and his pictures).
Additionally, this year featured a very personally frustrating summer: I got mono, broke my leg (in an improv comedy show, of all things), and got fired (the latter of which ended up spoiling my 40th birthday). But the fall got much better, thanks to the aforementioned Canes PA gig and a new tech job. Plus I ended up lucking into a surprise bonus check at work. A bonus check that basically covered the cost of entry to the fantasy game. Couple that with the festivities around the 10th Anniversary of the Stanley Cup, and I put my money down to play in the alumni game this year. Who knows if the stars will align in a future year? I’ve already had one knee surgery and a myriad of minor injuries – I’m getting in while the getting’s good!
So I’m going to be chronicling this weekend’s from a fan’s perspective for Section328.com. Giving a look at what it’s like to do the alumni weekend, this very special episode one in particular, from a fan’s perspective. I’ll be participating in all of the events except the fantasy tailgate, and hope to give you a sense of what they’re like.
The process started by filling out a form online back in November. They asked for basic demographic details, as well as your most recent hockey playing experience (“Lower C, Polar Ice House, on the Motley Crew“) as well as number request (I put in for my preferred #42, which is not only one of the nerdiest possible numbers, but was apparently my dad’s football number when he played in high school). One interesting note is that #2, #10, and #17 were specifically called out as not available for selection. Retired numbers: serious business. Though I suppose two out of those three will get worn during the game. After a while, I got a notice that I was in, and a link to pay online. With a little bit of grimacing, I put in my credit card number, and was set. I was officially going to be a pretend-National-Hockey-Leaguer for a day! And with the Cup alumni! I’ve often said that, aside from the birth of my daughters and my wedding, that 2006 Finals was the most amazing event I’ve ever been a part of. I went to Game 1 with my friend Mark Cornick, Game 2 with my wife, Game 5 with my dad (who almost saw the Cup raised, except for that meddling OT shorty), and Game 7 by myself. I still get chills thinking about standing all game, and seeing the Cup presentation right here – in Raleigh, North Carolina! (#CheapPop).
Over the past few months, our main contact has been former Hurricanes player Shane Willis. Shane is the Youth & Amateur Hockey Coordinator for the Hurricanes. You may see him out on the ice during intermissions at Canes games with the Mighty Mites (which are not actually a drug-resistant strain of ectoparasites, as I learned on the job), but he’s very involved in all of the Hurricanes’ efforts to support hockey in the area. I really only remember Shane as a promising young player in the Canes’ early years, and the source of my still-potent hatred for Scott Stevens. Interacting with him in this process, though, he’s a hell of a guy. Given my somewhat unique situation, I cross paths with him at the arena fairly frequently, and he’s usually there asking me if I’m getting in shape for the game. Yes, Shane, I’m burning calories by sitting in a chair and typing all day, every day. I’m basically a triathlete. As you’ve seen in the Pete Friesen CanesVision videos, though, Shane still looks like he could go out and play tomorrow. Homeboy’s in shape. If a guy who hasn’t played professionally since 2009 looks like that, is my doughy software developer body going to be able to keep up with anyone?
Things really started heating up over the past few weeks, as the schedule got finalized. And on Friday, we got our gameday packets in the mail. Included was a schedule of events for the weekend, a pair of tickets to Friday’s game vs. Pittsburgh and Saturday’s game vs. the Islanders, a parking pass to Lot C and/or the player’s lot on the North side of the arena, and some tickets to two special events: A “player selection party” after the Pens game (where we get to mingle with the alumni and 2006 trophies, as well as find out which team we’ll play on), and a “cocktail reception” after Sunday’s game (with players, but no trophies).
Friday also has a few other events going on, so I’m taking off work that day to enjoy them. At 10am, we get to watch the Canes’ morning skate. At 11:30, we get to do the same for the Penguins. I’m questioning whether it would be considered “poor form” to give Fleury an All-Star-Game-worthy goalie chant during the skate. Probably so.
Then at 1:30, we’ll get to put on some gear and go out for a practice on PNC Arena ice! Hit the showers (there’s not much worse on the nose than hockey funk, and I say this after experiencing two children, an incontinent cat, and a grandmother who lived in Hopewell, VA), then I’m done until my 5pm call time for the game. Alumni game participants will be watching the Pens game from Section 105. Then, after the game, it’s off to the Arena Club for the team unveiling and socializing. I’m looking forward to meeting Bret Hedican and giving him some static for investing in a TeamSnap competitor.
Saturday’s pretty sedate, with no events planned other than the game vs. the Islanders. Participants have seats in 105 for that game as well. But I’ve seen the CanesVision plan for that night, and I want to encourage you to be in your seats before 7pm on Saturday. Leave home early if you have to. Trust me on this one – I have inside information.
And then comes the big day on Sunday. Players (real and imaginary) will arrive around 11:30am, and park in the player’s lot (#swag). Doors open for fans at 12:30pm – it’s free admission, so come out and watch! I think I have some relatives coming in from Virginia to watch, as well as some members of my rec hockey team.
Warmups are at 12:45 (warmups! Like a real NHL player!). Puck drops at 1:30pm for the game. I can pretty much guarantee I’ll be the worst player out there, so you can watch for that if nothing else. It’s three running-clock 20-minute periods (like my Monday night league) with full intermissions (completely unlike my Monday night league). Finally, the weekend ends with the cocktail party after the game (and, thanks to CDC regulations, a shower). And with that, we’ll all return to our normal lives, after having lived the life of a pro for a few days.
It’s hard to believe that the weekend is almost here. I’m sure it will be gone in a flash, with nothing but memories, pictures, and the words of John Forslund ringing in my ears. But I’m hoping to bring you along for the ride, and let you see what it’s like when a huge Hurricanes fan gets to look to his left and right and see his heroes, the 2006 Stanley Cup champions, right there beside.
Let’s Go Canes!