by Patrick Hoffman on 02/06/09 at 02:38 AM ET
With the expansion of the Internet, along with the development of many hockey-related web sites, fantasy hockey has become extremely popular.
For hockey fans across the globe, it’s the chance to be a GM and show that you have what it takes to win your league by drafting right, making smart moves and learning how to truly manage a roster.
One hockey personality that couldn’t agree more is Rob Higgins, member of the Canadian band Dearly Beloved but to us hockey fans, known for being the fantasy hockey voice on XM Home Ice. Rob was kind enough to take time out of his busy schedule to talk about how he got his start, the uniqueness and wonder of fantasy hockey, his fantasy surprises and disappointments and of course, his predictions.
Take it away Rob:
GLR: How did you first get into hockey?
RH: I played at a high level growing up around Toronto. My dad was my coach at the beginning, and Brad May’s dad was my coach at the end. Brad and I were linemates, at one point. I can’t remember a time when I didn’t skate. My dad got me started early and I still play once a week to this day. Hockey was my first passion and I got into it by having a dad who loved it just as much.
GLR: Growing up, who was your favorite team? How about your favorite player?
RH: I’ve always cheered for the Leafs. Toronto is my hometown. Growing up it was all about being Daryl Sittler or Lanny MacDonald, then Wendel Clark. Tiger Williams was probably my favourite Leaf - my dad even got him to show up at our local arena one time - that’s the kind of guy Tiger is. And the kind of guy my dad was. Tiger had the whole sports as entertainment thing down, which is something I appreciate. He had a wicked sense of humour and real personality, something that’s very hard to find in the NHL these days. I’ve always been a huge Flyers fan, too, which Toronto people find strange, given the rivalry. But the spectacle of the Flyers teams in the late 70’s resonated with me somehow, despite my youth. Bob Clarke was my guy. He was a “do whatever it takes” player that not only earned his warrior status but did it while battling tremendous adversity in his personal life. He’s probably my favourite hockey player of all time. And the only name on the back of any of my NHL jerseys.
GLR: How did you get to be such an avid fantasy hockey expert/player? What makes it exciting to you?
RH: I played a ton of hockey growing up and I’m just the type of person that gets into something 100% if I get into it at all. I geeked out on all aspects of the game, stats included, and used to dream of one day being a player, then a GM - not unlike most kids that grow up in Southern Ontario. I’ve been running hockey pools and fantasy hockey leagues since I was in Grade 4, when I used to use the Tuesday newspaper to manually tabulate the results for the league I ran for the teachers. Kids thought I was a little weird, but looking back, the teachers must have loved me. There was no internet yet and I used to do all their work for them!
I get a kick out of it because I can pretend I’m an NHL GM. I’m in a 15 year long keeper league and there are very few things as satisfying as waking up and seeing your team in first place after all those long hours of research and time spent in front of the tube watching hockey games. Covering hockey from a fantasy perspective is also a real treat because, unlike other hockey programs that have to stick to hot-button topics, I cover the stories that write themselves and are often overlooked. Carlo Colaiacovo’s presence in St. Louis is having a major impact and he’s becoming the player the Leafs had hoped he’d become. That’s a story I just put together for an XM show - not many journalists or broadcasters are making that one a high priority and I’m sort of proud that I get to shine a light on it.
GLR: How did you get involved with XM Home Ice? Tell us about what you do for the station, the times/days you are on the air, etc.
RH: I got involved, funny enough, by being in their studios with my band, Dearly Beloved, a few years ago. We were invited by The Verge, the music channel that lives in the same building as NHL Home Ice, to record an in-studio performance that they tape and play at a later date. When it was over, I noticed these guys coming out of a radio booth with NHL logos all over it. Being a hockey nut, I couldn’t believe my eyes. I had no idea there was a 24-hour hockey channel on the radio, in my city. I immediately walked over to it, asked this guy (who turned out to be Shawn Lavigne) who was in charge of the staion- he pointed at this older guy (turned out to be Joe Thistel) - so I marched over to Joe, introduced myself, and asked how I can get involved. He kind of laughed at me a bit but then told me I could come sit in for the War Room when I had some free time. I have to tell you, from the second I laid my eyes on the radio booth, I knew I would work at XM. It sounds weird, but it all just fell into place in a way that is rare. Joe and Shawn both felt I was a natural on-air and before too long I was getting paid to talk about the game I love on the radio. The fantasy part of what I do came last. That was a right place at the right time kind of thing. Gretzky.com had just hired me to be their fantasy guru and XM was looking for someone new. They took a chance on me, and once they realized that fantasy was more than just an interest for me, that it was more like an unhealthy obsession, and that listeners were responding to the segments I was doing, they let me create a one-hour fantasy hockey show, which Boomer co-hosts every Friday afternoon at 2pm. I still do the War Room every Friday at 11 and do Hockey This Morning with Scott Laughlin and Shawn Lavigne every Monday morning at 9:45. the War Room and The Fantasy Show repeat on the weekends as well.
GLR: Are you involved with any other hockey outlets? If so, please tell us which ones.
RH: I write a column for Torontosun.com every Monday. I appear on the Bill Watters Radio Show every Tuesday at 5:40pm. I do The Grill Room, a round-table sports tv show here in Toronto, 3-5 times per month. Most recently, I’ve developed a fantasy hockey TV show with SUN TV that debuted a couple of weeks ago. Our next one is the day after the trade deadline, March 5th. I’ve been trying to take fantasy hockey mainstream and get it on TV for 3 years now, so this is something I’m actually quite proud of. The gang at SUN TV have been great to work with.
GLR: What direction do you think fantasy hockey will take over the next couple of years?
RH: Fantasy hockey is the most cost-effective, grass roots marketing solution the NHL has at its disposal. It generates a league-wide interest in the game that the games themselves can’t and won’t. It converts casual fans into rabid ones, and recruits new fans to the game. I take great pride in growing the game I love with fantasy hockey and in these economic times, especially, the NHL can’t afford to not exploit its popularity. When I started out in broadcasting just a few years ago, fantasy was hard to find. Now, with football leading the way, fantasy is everywhere. As an industry, it is huge growth and big business. More and more hockey fans will discover the joys of running a fantasy squad as more and more people in the business, like myself, make it easier for them to do so. The league itself will recognize the marketing potential and before too long, fantasy hockey will be a component of every hockey issue and conversation. I’m hopeful fantasy players will get away from roto leagues hosted by major corporations and get into starting their own keeper points leagues. It’s as close as you can get to running your own NHL team and isn’t driven by head-to-head category match-ups.
GLR: In your opinion, who has been a nice surprise fantasy hockey-wise this season? Why? (The next two questions are part of this one)
RH: I’m partial to the Patrick Elias story. Here’s a guy that many felt would never be a point per game player again and yet has bounced back to a level on par with his finest seasons. He’s battled through off-ice issues and managed to thrive after losing his captaincy in New Jersey and has been absolutely dominant this year.
GLR: How about the most disappointing?
RH: Hmmm, so many .... Brent Burns. Tom Plekanec. Rod Brind’Amour, Peter Mueller, Michael Nylander (although playing with Alex Semin has helped recently), Brendan Morrison! Ouch.
GLR: How about on your own fantasy hockey team?
RH: Jason Spezza. I had an auction budget of 800 dollars to spend and dropped 316 on Spezz. Studs like him just don’t become available in our keeper league very often so I had to pounce. He’s been a total bust at that price but, thankfully, my team still has a huge lead (knock on wood) built on the strength of my keepers, Ovechkin, Datsyuk and Hossa up front, with Green and Lidstrom on the back end. I added Setoguchi and Elias for a dollar each at the end of the auction, and with Versteeg and Mason off the waiver wire have managed to maintain.
GLR: Look into your crystal ball: Where will your fantasy hockey team finish this season?
RH: Well, I’ve won our league four years in a row now, and have a 200 point lead as of this writing. That’s all I can say ... saying any more, in our league anyway, is NOT a good idea. It’s almost curse-like.
GLR: Do you expect to make any big deals in the near future to improve your roster?
RH: I just moved Lidstrom and Tim Thomas for Jeff Carter and a bum. The other owner needed a goalie desperately, and a stud on the blue line. I always need a guy like Carter and had Thomas, who doesn’t start enough to warrant the top goalie spot on my team, and Lidstrom, a guy I could no longer protect (I have Mike Green and Dan Boyle to keep in my two D slots) - so it was a no brainer - all the recent Thomas hype provided me the opportunity to move him and a guy, in Lidstrom, whose value has peaked ... for a horse in Jeff Carter that will produce for years and is on a good enough team that I can justify protecting him at the end of the season.
GLR: Any words of wisdom for fantasy hockey fans here on Kukla’s Korner?
RH: Well, any fantasy is good fantasy ... but it’s undeniable that it’s unwise to become a slave to the box score. There’s no better way to scout players than to actually watch them play.
And again, please consider starting your own points-based keeper league and have it hosted by an independent company designed to meet your needs. It’s a blast, helps one appreciate how hard it is to build a winner and keep it together, and is really good for the soul.
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Patrick has a tremendous passion for hockey. Besides covering the Rangers and the NHL for Kukla's Korner, you can also find Patrick's work over at Sportsnet.ca, The Red Light District Hockey Blog, NHL Home Ice, and Liam Maguire's Ultimate Hockey web site.
Prior to writing for the above mentioned outlets, you could find Patrick's musings at hockey web sites/outlets such as TheHockeyNews.com, TheFourthPeriod.com, Spector's Hockey, Hokeja Vestnesis, Blueshirt Bulletin, SNYRangersBlog.com and many more.
For questions, comments and hip checks, feel free to e-mail Patrick at email@example.com.