The Monkey Prophet
During coverage of the 2003 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs by Canadian sports specialty channel TSN (The Sports Network), the network presented the usual panel of hockey experts who predicted the outcomes of the first round matchups. TSN augmented its broadcast with a special guest prognosticator: a macaque from the Bowmanville Zoo, named Maggie. Maggie made her picks by spinning a large Crown and Anchor wheel which had, instead of the usual selection of symbols, alternating logos of the two franchises for each individual series.
Maggie's record for correct picks after the first round was 4-4, not dissimilar from the analyst panel whose individual members went 4-4 or 5-3. Unremarked as yet was her selection of the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim, a stunning upset victory over the Detroit Red Wings which Maggie alone had predicted. In the second round's pre-series show, the analyst panel uniformly backed the Dallas Stars against Anaheim, but again Maggie's spin of the wheel came up Ducks. When the second round ended, Maggie was 2-2 but again her Mighty Ducks had prevailed. For the third round she picked the New Jersey Devils over favoured Ottawa, and again the Ducks over the playoffs' other Cinderella team, the Minnesota Wild. A few of the analysts climbed into bed (figuratively!) with Maggie on her Anaheim pick, but the panel voted Ottawa across the board. Maggie went 2-0 in the Conference Championships, with the Devils and Ducks advancing. Maggie's final spin of the wheel was a half-hearted one. It came up Ducks, of course, but it seemed that her heart wasn't in it, and the Devils prevailed. She finished 8-7 on her predictions, but her consistent backing of the Ducks had ignited fan support, and a legend was born! Not just in Canada, either. Maggie's steadfast support of the Ducks had garnered her an appearance on the front page of the L.A. Times and press notice as far away as Australia.
Returning by popular demand for the 2004 Stanley Cup, Maggie stumbled out of the gate, going 2-6 in the first round, spurning both the Calgary Flames and Tampa Bay Lightning. She watched the first round series keenly, and recovered by going 3-1 in the second round, this time picking both the Flames and Lightning to advance. She picked them again in the third round to go 2-0, but again her spin failed her in the finale, as she picked the Flames only to watch them lose in 7 to Tampa Bay. Maggie finished 7-8 for the playoffs.
During the 2004 player lockout, fans were curious as to Maggie's whereabouts. Rumours abounded. Maggie was involved in negotiations to buy her beloved Mighty Ducks of Anaheim, whom Disney had on the block at the time. Maggie was part of a backroom deal involving Mario Lemieux, Tie Domi, and Larry Tanenbaum. Maggie's deal for the Ducks had collapsed when it was revealed her funding was largely based on a claim to have holdings exceeding $100,000 with a Nigerian bank. This author contacted TSN's Jay Onrait to inquire as to whether Maggie might settle the lockout with her famous wheel, but the TSN host replied that Maggie herself was holding out for 'more bananas' and thus was not available.
When the NHL resumed play for the 2006 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs, Maggie mavens awaited the return of their heroine. She started with her usual slow first round, going 4-4. In the second round, she picked the Ottawa Senators, Carolina Hurricanes, Edmonton Oilers, and of course her beloved Mighty Ducks of Anaheim. Maggie was 3-1 in this round, with only the Ottawa Senators gone, dumped by the Buffalo Sabres. This brought Maggie's record to 7-5, tied with TSN's Bob McKenzie for the TSN panel lead.
In the third round of the 2006 playoffs, Maggie abandoned her Ducks to select the sole remaining Canadian franchise, the Oilers in the West. In the East she chose the 'Canes to advance. The humans on the TSN panel chose the Sabres and Ducks. Maggie proved correct on both counts, leaving McKenzie in the dust as her record shot to 9-5.
Only the finals remained, Maggie's Achilles heel in seasons past. She chose the Oilers to previal. Her hopes seemed dashed early when the Oilers' starting goalie was injured late in a game one loss, and then the Oil were blown out in game two. The Oilers rallied to force a full seven games, but it was not to be. The 'Canes won the Cup, and Maggie finished 9-6, handily crushing McKenzie's 7-8 final record.
An exciting 2006/2007 regular season ended with a dramatic Eastern conference race that went to the last game, and left both Montreal and Toronto on the outside looking in. Canadians were united with one thought "Who will the monkey choose?" Picking before the opening of the first round, Maggie joined a TSN panel including Bob McKenzie, Darren Dreger, James Duthie, Darren Pang, and Jeremy Roenick. Maggie and the panel correctly made two unanimous choices: the Buffalo Sabres over the New York Islanders and Detroit Red Wings over the Calgary Flames. She bucked the panel's consensus by taking the Pittsburgh Penguins over Ottawa, the Nashville Predators over the San Jose Sharks, the Atlanta Thrashers over the New York Rangers and—shockingly—the Wild over her precious Anaheim Ducks. Sadly for Maggie, each of these four choices proved disastrous. She correctly chose the New Jersey Devils over Tampa Bay and the Vancouver Canucks over the Dallas Stars in two series that split the human panel. Maggie finished 4-4 in round one, against a strong showing by JR and the homo sapiens panel.
Her second round picks were Detroit over San Jose, Buffalo over the Rangers, Ottawa over New Jersey, and Vancouver over Anaheim. Again she spurned the Ducks, taking the underdog Canucks, and again the Ducks neatly defied her expectations. Maggie finished 3-1 in round two, but the human panelist did well too, and Maggie's 7-5 record kept her in last place.
Maggie's conference final picks were Ottawa and Detroit, turning the cold shoulder to Anaheim yet again. Ottawa won, and Anaheim prevailed in the face of Maggie's scorn. Undeterred, Maggie's final spin of 2007 came up Ottawa, but the Ducks won in 5. Ironically their most famous supporter ignored them in all 4 rounds. She finished 8-7, soundly beaten by the panel of higher primates.
Picking before the opening of the first round, Maggie rejoined Bob McKenzie on TSN's panel, which also included James Duthie, Darren Pang, and 'Mad' Mike Milbury. Maggie and the panel correctly made four unanimous choices: the Habs over the Bruins, the Pens over the Sens, the Wings over the Preds and the Sharks over the Flames. The entire panel also chose Maggie's pals the Ducks over the Stars, incorrectly. Maggie successfully bucked the panel's consensus by taking the Flyers over the Caps. In the other two series, Maggie incorrectly backed the Devils over the Blueshirts and the Wild over the Avs, leaving her at 5-3, tied with the entire panel except for her arch-nemesis McKenzie, who went 6-2.
In the second round Maggie picked against McKenzie and Darren Dreger, leaving just her and 'Big Head' to go head to head for the overall playoff prediction prize. All 3 panelists correctly chose Detroit over Colorado and mistakenly took the Sharks over the Stars. Maggie's other picks were both wrong, the Habs over Philly and the Rangers over the Pens, while Big Head chose the Habs and the Pens. Maggie finished 1-3 in round two, going to 6-6. With McKenzie's 2-2 record he went to 8-4 overall.
In Round three, both Maggie and Bob correctly chose the Pens over the Flyers and the Wings over the Stars, taking their prognostication records to 8-6 and 10-4 respectively. Maggie chose the Pens to win the Cup while McKenzie correctly picked the Wings. Thus the trends continued — Bob spanked Maggie once again, with a 11-4 sound victory over her second consecutive 8-7 finish. Once again, her Cup finals choice loses. Could it be The Curse of the Monkey's Wheel?