The 2013 NHL season was full of twists and turns and it ended up with big prizes awarded to Jimmy Phaphon and Vernon O'Quinn, a couple of guys from opposite sides of the country, who won the grand prizes in the TSN Fantasy Hockey Challenge and Playoff Hockey Challenge, respectively.
Phaphon, a 22-year-old from Vancouver, BC, used a combination of statistics and intuition to set his roster, noting, "Stats alone can't do everything and intuition alone will create a lot sub-optimal picks when it's not backed by relevant stats. Ideally the stats and intuition align."
The Fantasy Hockey Challenge allows players to change their roster every week and Phaphon took advantage of that opportunity from time to time. "I generally did make changes every week," said Phaphon. "Although it really depends on the schedule. There were weeks where I held onto most of my players from the previous week, and there were weeks when I completely blew up my team."
When looking for a particular value pick, Phaphon didn't hesitate to give credit to San Jose's Brent Burns, who started the year as a defencemen, then moved to forward, playing on Joe Thornton's wing. He was a bargain pick-up for the production he provided, which included 20 points in the last 24 games of the season.
Phaphon had several close calls in big fantasy pools during the 2011-2012 season, including a winning month in TSN's Predictor Challenge, so he felt like he was close to earning a big prize. "I told my friends that I was gonna win a car next season!" No word on whether that prediction was also a combination of stats and intuition.
That bold prediction paid off as Jimmy received a 2014 Kia Forte Sedan SX for his Fantasy Hockey Challenge win. Phaphon had been planning to buy a used car in July, so his prize couldn't have come at a better time. "The car feels/drives amazing and it has so many features that I still have no clue what 80% of them do."
O'Quinn, a 40-year-old IT Manager from New Waterford, Nova Scotia, stormed ahead of the competition, but it took some time.
"In the first round, I put some thought into what teams would win both their respective series and possibly play 6-7 games," he said. "On top of that I had gone with Bruins and Hawks in another pool, so I went with the two goalies whom I thought had the best chance of advancing into round two (Rask/Crawford).
"With the Hawks and Senators taking only five games to dispose of their opposition, it stuck me in approx 3,500th place following the first round." With all of his first-round picks advancing, O'Quinn made a choice for the second round. "I simply let my team ride and hoped for deep series'." O'Quinn acknowledged that part of the reason he let it ride for Round Two was that he didn't necessarily think he was in position to contend after the first round, but that changed as he crept near the Top 100 after the second round.
The final opportunity to make changes in the Playoff Challenge came before the Conference Final, at which point O'Quinn loaded his team with Bruins and Blackhawks, the two teams he expected to reach the Stanley Cup Final. O'Quinn went with a diverse approach at the end. "I also wanted to ensure that I had three forwards from each team in the final segment, selecting two off their top lines and one off the second, in the case that one line went cold."
When it came to finding value, O'Quinn found that winning goaltenders provided the best bang for the buck. "I put my emphasis on picking who I thought had the best chance to win and who I thought would play every night," he said. "I stayed far away from former Cape Breton Screaming Eagle Marc-Andre Fleury as his display in 2012 was scarier than any movie released in that calendar year and he played his best part to be a Penguin killer this post-season."
Asked if his viewing habits changed much due to the Playoff Hockey Challenge, Quinn responded, "For me, I'm a self-confessed sport-a-holic and my trends following the playoffs didn't change too much. I would say I did spend quite a bit of time on TSN's site following the Playoff Hockey Challenge leaderboard. A great tool was that the pool updated with live stats within games which made it exciting to follow in real time. As I grew closer to the lead, my wife Amy (who may have watched a combined 10 minutes of the NHL in her life) became enthralled in the stats and results, and watching the Final so, more than anything else,that made the 2013 playoffs the most enjoyable for me."
O'Quinn's prize for his efforts? A 2014 Kia Sorento. A nice ride for his playoff success.