Dominic Moore takes on Zenon Konopka at Smashfest (Photo courtesy of the NHLPA)It's a Thursday evening in mid-July and rather than teeing off or finishing up a round of golf, a handful of former and current NHL players gathered at the Steam Whistle Brewery in downtown Toronto to compete in a sport that's become a part of the NHL dressing room fabric: ping pong.
Hosted by Dominic Moore of the San Jose Sharks along with the NHLPA, the inaugural Smashfest tournament gave hockey fans the opportunity to team up with some of the biggest NHL superstars from past and present including Steven Stamkos, Vinny Lecavalier and Eric Lindros to help raise money for concussion research.
"I love ping pong and it's kind of [a way to] give the fans the opportunity to see the locker room culture that they would never otherwise know about," he said.Participating players (Photo courtesy of the NHLPA)
Moore says his inspiration to do this type of event came from the fact that every NHL dressing room has a ping-pong table and teammates are always lining up to get the first game before or after practice.
However, though every team may have a table, doesn't mean every player has high-level talent. Steven Stamkos, the 2012 Maurice Richard Trophy winner and runner-up for the Hart Trophy says that his skills with a ping pong paddle aren't quite the same as what they are with a hockey stick.
"[My game is] not very good at all, I'm usually the guy body checking the ping-pong players, trying to screw their games up," Stamkos said
"I'd probably [rate my ping pong game] a four out of 10. I can rally the ball, but anytime there's spin on it I'm done."
Stamkos' teammate Lecavalier admits his ping pong skills aren't much better, citing his backhand as the best and only real facet to his game. He felt the crowd would also play a factor into who could come out on top as playing in front of hundreds of fans is a much different than playing in the confines of the dressing room.Dominic Moore (Photo courtesy of the NHLPA)
"We play quite a bit in Tampa, but [there's] a lot of pressure [here] so it's a bit of a different ball game," Lecavalier said.
Lecavalier was just one of many who picked Dominic Moore as the favourite to win the tournament — he has an experienced background in tennis — but former Lightning forward Ryan Shannon ended up upsetting Moore in the finals and walking away as the champion.
But, while the event was all about letting fans see a different side of their favourite players, it's all for a cause that's going to help raise awareness for a hot-button issue within the league with all proceeds going to the Rotman Research Institute in Toronto and the Matthew Gfeller Center at the University of North Carolina.
"[Events like this] are very important," Stamkos said. "Unfortunately there's been some instances over the past couple of seasons to some marquee players obviously Sid [Crosby] being the main one and it's affected him and other players in the league. When Mooresy asked us to be a part of this of this it was a no-brainer, no PUN intended."