Poolies are suffering

PAUL FRIESEN -- Winnipeg Sun

, Last Updated: 7:55 AM ET

So what's an NHL fan to do?

This is supposed to be the time of year when poolies comb the newspaper stats pages every day, calculating the points they accumulated in their playoff drafts the night before.

It's become a cottage industry, these player drafts, as central a part of the office as the coffee machine.

And every office has a ringleader, the guy who organizes the thing every year. Have you noticed how he's holding up these days?

He's the one acting like a smoker going through nicotine withdrawal: there's the nervous tick, the sweaty palms and an increased appetite for adding up small, random numbers.

In really severe cases, he's doing extensive research into the AHL.

Like 44-year-old Brian Roy of St. Pierre Jolys, located about half an hour southeast of the city.

Roy is some kind of hockey nut. A huge Habs fan, his house is pretty much decorated in the bleu, blanc et rouge.

The guy invited Guy Lafleur to his first wedding, OK? And when Lafleur wrote back that he couldn't make it, Roy had the letter laminated and read aloud at the service.

"I had an empty chair for him beside the priest," Roy said.

A meat cutter who works at nearby Grunthal, Roy also named his first son Patrick.

Anyway, this guy has been running an NHL playoff draft for 22 years. Just a bunch of guys getting together over a few laughs and a few more drinks -- a rite of spring for thousands of hockey fans.

But with the NHL in lockdown mode, Roy found himself getting the shakes when April rolled around.

His buddies knew he was certifiable when he recently started talking about an AHL draft.

"He's seeing bugs on the wall, because he's having withdrawal," is how fellow poolie Robert Berard describes it. "He's catatonic, and I guess he needs his fix."

Problem is, Berard, a high school history teacher, is like most NHL fans in these parts: he thinks a Manchester Monarch has black-and-orange wings and lives in a cocoon all winter. Ask him to name a player in Worcester and he'll likely say, "Gesundheit."

"I don't know if I could name 10 (AHLers)," Berard said.

But Roy refuses to be deterred.

"A lot of the guys, they don't want to do it," he said. "But I'm pushing to do it. I need my draft."

So does Rick Brownlee over at the Manitoba Sports Hall of Fame, but for a different reason.

For the last 11 years, Brownlee's annual NHL draft has been a huge fundraiser for the Hall, bringing in close to $10,000 each year.

This year, he's also been sent to the minors, and he's feeling the pinch.

"I'll be lucky to make $5,000 this year," Brownlee was saying yesterday.

Brownlee's draft, geared toward the local business crowd, isn't your typical rec room affair. He does it up in a swanky restaurant, providing an open bar and buffet dinner, all for a $550 entry fee.

But Stanley Cup Night became Calder Cup Night this year, complete with an appearance by the actual Calder Cup in the Exchange Restaurant in the new arena.

That still wasn't enough to attract a full slate of teams.

Brownlee tried to make up for it through his penalty system: team owners are fined $20 if their cellphone rings during the draft, if they don't show up in their NHL jerseys or if they pick a player who's already been chosen.

That last one seems kind of tough, considering the circumstances.

"I had to spoon-feed them with quite a bit of literature," Brownlee acknowledged. "Once you got down to the third-round picks ... there was some head-scratching going on."

Just add it to the list of symptoms.

But remember, poolies, if we can get through the next few weeks, we can get through anything.


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