January 22nd, 2010

My Equally Valid Opinion

Solace, or how to fuzzy-perceive

"You should play sports," Shain said to me as we watched Canada's lackluster performance against the US in the world jrs. final. "If you're going to write about sports, you should play sports."

This is not the first time that Shain has taken shots at my writing process. A few years ago, he was convinced I should join the army. All the great writers had military experience, he argued. Hemingway, Mailer, Vonnegut. I countered with a double-pronged approach, noting that being a soldier did not automatically confer superior writing ability (citing Tom Clancy under the mistaken impression that he'd served, but also Robert A. Heinlein, a good writer but a terrible fascist) as well as the fact that many more authors were opposed to the military, Hunter S. Thompson and William Burroughs among them. And I capped it off by telling him that I'd enlist if he did it first, which in retrospect could've turned into one of those "man what have I got myself into this time" things.

Aside from that, he's been trying to get me to join his boxing club for a year or so now. It's just not something I'm interested in doing. But it did get me thinking: I should step up my level of activity somehow, to get myself more focused than the average punter. It's all well and good to like watching the game and cheer for my team and so forth, but I should have an edge -- something that'll force me to dive right in, rather than merely getting my ankles wet.

So I started gambling. No, I'm not throwing my life savings at a "surefire" Super Bowl win or anything silly like that, although there is an element of glamour in a high-roller story. I'm just putting down five bucks every so often on the hockey pools from Pro-Line. It's a straightforward system: put in a fiver, call all the games correctly, win the pool. The odds are better than the lottery, and there's a certain degree of skill involved with the picks. And I'm certainly paying much more attention to the games now. Before, my daily routine on a gameday was simple: read the preview for the Sens game, maybe glance over a few other teams, but mostly rest in ignorance until the following morning when the scores would be posted. Oh, the Jackets beat the Bruins? How about that. Now I pore over all of the previews, and the stats comparisons, and wikip for certain players I might not know enough about. Gotta make an informed decision if I'm actually spending money on these games, right? And then I read all of the summaries the next day: oh, the Jackets beat the Bruins because the ref made a bad high sticking call when Milan Lucic's stick was nowhere near the guy's face, and Stralman and Umberger capitalized on the power play for the winning goal. How about that.

Which brings us to last night. The above summary of the Columbus-Boston game was just one of three which I called incorrectly on a pool card of sixteen games. The other two were St. Louis over Montreal and Detroit over Minnesota, games which went to overtime and a shootout respectively. On one hand, I'm elated; this is the closest I've gotten to making enough calls to get a share of the prize pie (if nobody gets every game right, you can win by getting 15 of 16, so I was only two off from a payout this time.) But on the other, well, close isn't good enough here. I'm still out five bucks. This isn't just "close" in the sense of "gosh, we're close to the moon," though. All it would've taken was one less save from Chris Mason or one more goal from Zdeno Chara to turn those games around. Heck, the Blues nearly made it 1-1 at the end of the first against Ottawa, but the puck was ruled to have crossed the line after the buzzer went. Who knows what might've happened if they'd gotten that one? We're talking about the narrowest of margins, the difference between a top-corner goal and a harmless crossbar bounce, and if I've reached a point where I can confidently make a pick that takes all factors up to those into play, then I'm doing pretty damn good.

So I still feel like I'm learning something. If it ever gets to the point where that feeling goes away, I'll knock it off. But at the moment I'd suggest my upcoming midseason checkup post (which is delayed this year, thanks to the Olympic break) could be more astute than ever before. Plus, I'm finding more and better quotes in the postgame reactions, like this gem from our man in Washington after rallying to beat the Penguins last night: "It's great," Ovechkin said. "I think the fans love me. They booed me because I'm not on their team."

What's five bucks here and there when I'm getting more engaged with the Canadian state religion? A little tithing can be good for the soul. And if I ever hit one of those big wins, I can rub it in Shain's face, preferably over pitchers while the Sens beat a path to the Stanley Cup.