Fantasy Football Fun with the Penguins –

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His wife Carly laughingly tried helping her husband as he sat helplessly in front of their computer, filming their entertaining exchanges and posting them to her Instagram account with funny hashtags like #fantasyfootballfordummies and #sticktohockey.

“How many people do you need on your team?”


“Do you even know 13 football players?”

“No, but I know I need them.”

Up until that point in his fantasy football career, Zucker had been what he called “the money guy” – where he volunteered to be someone’s co-GM, but didn’t actually have anything to do with the team.

Instead, he paid half the entry fee just for a chance to win the whole thing, and did that with longtime friend Bryan Rust (the two of them were junior teammates with the USNTDP) during his first full season in Pittsburgh.

“But then Rusty forgot I was on his team the year before, so he got a new teammate,” Zucker said.

“Yeah, he was supposed to be with me and then I forgot,” laughed Rust, who ended up joining forces with Brock McGinn.

After they went back and forth chirping each other for a while – something that has been turning into a trend between these guys, who sit two locker stalls apart from each other with Josh Archibald in the middle – Zucker continued.

“So I was like I’m out, I’m not going to do it,” he said. “Then Dumo (Brian Dumoulin) texted me and said hey, we need an extra team. I was like all right, fine, I’ll do it. Then Kappy (Kasperi Kapanen) ended up jumping in.”

Kapanen had been telling Zucker at dinner one night that he was bummed to be missing out on the league, so it actually worked out perfect. And even though he also didn’t know a ton about football, he found a way to contribute – by stirring the pot with their opponent each week. “Try to get in their heads and do as much damage as I can. I love doing that,” Kapanen said.

And their approach worked, with Zucker and Kapanen winning the regular season before bowing out in the first round. “We dominated, and we just couldn’t pull it off in the playoffs,” Kapanen said.

Danton Heinen and Evan Rodrigues ended up as the champions, much to the disbelief of one teammate, who says he still doesn’t know how it happened. “You got hot at the right time,” that teammate commented.

Heinen admits that he’s not the best at fantasy football, and that his real skill lies in picking a good partner/head GM. With Rodrigues heading to Colorado this offseason, Heinen will be looking to defend the title with newcomer Ty Smith, and feels good about their partnership. “He knows his stuff,” Heinen said.

Heinen calls himself more of an associate/assistant GM, but Smith said they’re co-GMs. They’ve been hard at work trying to dig themselves out of an early hole that came from poor drafting, picking up newly-crowned Steelers starting quarterback Kenny Pickett off the waiver wire.

“We’re just hoping he develops into a good player,” Smith said. “We stashed him on the bench for a little bit, and we’re going to work from there. We had a tough start. We started off 0-3, but we had the most points in the league last week, so we’re really turning it around. That’s just good management.”

While Heinen and Smith may not agree on their respective titles, the Swedish tandem – Rickard Rakell and Marcus Pettersson – have theirs all set.

“I’m general manager, he’s assistant to the regional manager,” Rakell said, making a reference to The Office that had to make Casey DeSmith proud.

So does that make Rakell Jim Halpert, and Pettersson Dwight Schrute?

“I’m Michael Scott,” Rakell answered.

Rakell was actually so funny when talking about his team. When I asked him about his best player, he let out a long sigh before saying, “There’s just so many.”

He then settled on Tennessee Titans running back Derrick Henry, saying they have a really good team built for the playoffs since they loaded up at that position. That is a popular strategy in the type of league the Penguins use, which is head-to-head instead of points-per-reception (PPR).

Going with that sort of format really helps the competitive juices flow, though not that this group needs any help in that regard. It’s also a great way to facilitate team bonding, especially with new Penguins players, as they can team up with someone and get into the mix of things right away.

“It’s a pretty common conversation every day at the rink, some trades and things like that. So we have fun with it,” Sidney Crosby said.

Though it probably comes as no surprise to anyone that while Crosby enjoys it, he also takes it very seriously, as does his co-GM Teddy Blueger. Crosby and Blueger are trying to redeem themselves after losing in the quarterfinals last year, though they’re not off to a great start, ranking last heading into Week 5.

“We both follow it pretty close, so Sunday we’re talking all day leading up to it, making moves, watching other players,” Blueger said.

After the fantasy football season ends, the Penguins typically have a Super Bowl party, where the guys all get together to watch the big game. If the schedule allows it, they usually head to their captain’s house, as Crosby has hosted his teammates a number of times over the years.

“I think it all depends on where we are,” Dumoulin said. “Sometimes in the past, we’ve watched at a bar. But usually if it works out, it just works out great to go to Sid’s and have everyone there. It’s always a fun time.”

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