The nation remains immersed in the madness of the NCAA men's college basketball tournament. The common question around town these days remains, "How's your bracket?" The answer for a lot of folks is "not too good."
If anyone understands the pressures of the playoffs, it's the professional hockey players that fill the roster of the Knoxville Ice Bears. Friday the team prepared for a home playoff game against the Columbus Cottonmouths.
The Ice Bears also got their competitive juices flowing with an office pool for the men's basketball tourney. These skilled professional athletes tapped into their training habits of tireless preparation before making their picks.
"I filled it out in about a minute. I don't know much about it. For me, I just took wild guesses," said Ice Bears defenseman Mark Van Vliet of Ontario, Canada. "How's my bracket? Not very good."
"I put some guesses on paper and called it good," laughed defenseman Nate Peterson. "I'm not doing as bad as some people. I think I'm in third. I just picked mostly higher seeds. I picked Michigan State because my dad went to school there."
Yes, this elite group of basketball experts from hoops hotbeds like Ontario somehow finds its brackets demolished by the madness of March. However, there is one exception. An often overlooked member of the team is glazing over the competition.
"Yeah, the Zamboni driver. He's killing us. He is beating everybody pretty bad," said Peterson.
"The Zamboni driver, Chris, he does the ice for us and he's whipping us. We're kind of embarrassed," said Van Vliet.
"I'm a sports fanatic. Anything with a ball, I'm watching it," said Chris Jones, a die-hard basketball fan born and raised in Powell, TN.
Jones started driving the Zamboni for the Ice Bears nine years ago. The players slipped up when they unknowingly invited the southern ringer of the rink into their bracket pool.
"They're from Canada and Michigan up north. They apparently don't know a lot about basketball," laughed Jones. "I mean, this year has been crazy for everyone with all the upsets. I don't know anyone personally who picked Florida Gulf Coast to beat Georgetown, much less make it to the Sweet 16. I managed to get 11 out of the 16 correct."
Jones cross-checked his Canadian counterparts with some clairvoyant choices.
"I picked Harvard in the first round and Harvard won. I also went with Wichita State. I picked them and they're still in it," said Jones. "I saw Wichita State a lot this year on television and also when they played Tennessee."
To the players' credit, they are not making any excuses.
"He [Jones] must have gotten help from somebody. He doesn't know anything but somehow he's winning," said Van Vliet. "Plus, we're concentrating more on our hockey at this point right now than basketball."
"Well, you know we've been worried about the playoffs and stuff like
that," smiled Peterson. "I don't know. He [Jones] probably knows a little bit
more about basketball than us."
To the victor go the spoils, even if the prize is only a little Zamboni pride. When asked, Jones clearly said there was nothing riding on the office pool bracket.
"No," said Jones with a grin. "You'll get me in trouble."
Jones said his final pick is not too adventurous. He chose number one seed Louisville to beat Florida in the championship game. He is also choosing the Ice Bears to win this year's playoffs.
Reporter's clearly biased note: It is worth noting Jones did not choose 10News anchor John Becker's beloved Kansas Jayhawks. This reporter can only speculate Jones has come to the reasonable conclusion that a team with an imaginary blue cartoon bird wearing yellow shoes with buckles as its mascot is an unlikely sports champion.