NHL players are very good at ping pong.
It’s well known that many players partake in a pre-game warmup of kicking a soccer ball around. What is less known, at least to this fan, is that most (if not all) NHL dressing rooms have a ping pong table for their players. It was this fact that inspired Dominic Moore to create Smashfest, a charity event benefitting the Katie Moore and Steve Moore Foundations. The event gives fans a chance to play in a doubles tournament with an NHL player, as well as watch the singles pro-vs-pro tournament, silent and live auctions, open bar courtesy of Steam Whistle Brewing (the venue), and the opportunity to mingle and chat with NHL pros of past and present, media personalities, and other surprise guests.
This year marked the fourth Smashfest, and while I had heard of it in the past, I never had a chance to attend. This year, however, I made sure to keep my late-July schedule open so I could make the trip up to Toronto and partake in this great event.
First off, the venue and surrounding area were beautiful. If you ever find yourself in Toronto, take a trip to Steam Whistle Brewing. Located in Roundhouse Park, the brewery is steps from the waterfront and downtown, and has a gorgeous interior. Hats off to them.
For my ticket, I purchased a Paddle Pass, which entitled me to automatic entry in the Pro-Am doubles tournament (regular tickets were entered into a raffle for the possibility to play). Upon doors opening at 6:30, I immediately made my way over to the lineup board to see who I was paired with. In a cruel twist of fate, I was to be paired with Washington Capitals forward Tom Wilson. I made my way over to the bar, wishing I had worn my Rangers hat and internally debating whether I should chirp my own teammate.
Around 7:30, the festivities started, with all the players coming out for introductions and pictures. Dom said some words, stated how excited he was to be back for a fourth year, and announced that the Pro-Am tournament was starting. There were four sections where the round-robin portion would be played; three inside and one outside on the patio. I lucked out and was assigned to the outside table.
Our first match was against defending champion Stéphane Veilleux, and we lost pretty handily. In my defense, though, I had to get the first-game jitters out. I had also never played doubles ping pong, so that took some getting used to. Our second match was against Jeff Skinner, who we beat much to the amusement of Michael Latta, aka Tom Wilson’s shadow ("Latts" and Wilson were inseparable all night. It was adorable.) Our final match of the round robin stage was against Nick Kypreos, which we lost in heartbreaking fashion in a tiebreaker. Despite the loss, the tournament was a lot of fun, and Wilson is a stand-up guy. While we were chatting between matches, he asked where I lived and when I responded with New York, he cautiously asked if I was a Rangers fan. When I responded in the affirmative, he let out a sigh and said "Aw man…". I patted him on the back and consoled him with a "I know, it’s okay." I restrained myself from making any "It was 3-to-1" jokes, as I enjoy having no broken bones in my face.
Once the Pro-Am tournament was finished, it was time for the main event: the Pro v Pro tournament. It followed a regular bracket style, with the semifinals and finals taking place at "Centre Court", a table in the middle of the room. The semifinal matches came down to Patrick Eaves v Michael Hutchinson and Stéphane Veilleux v Dominic Moore. If any lighthearted and feelings were had during the Pro-Am tournament, they were gone for the Pro v Pro, as the winner would get a trip to Italy, courtesy of Killerspin, the ping pong sponsor. Runner-up would receive a brand new Killerspin table for their team’s dressing room.
Patrick Eaves and Stéphane Veilleux advanced to the finals, and it was a doozy. Both players were not giving an inch and there were some incredible shots being made. If these guys ever retire early, there’s definitely a career in professional ping pong for them (is that a thing?). In the end there has to be a winner, and in a stunning upset, Eaves defeated last year’s champion Veilleux to win Smashfest IV.
With the tournaments completed, all that was left for the night were the live and silent auctions. Before those began, however, my favorite moment of the night occured. Dom grabbed the mic, and announced that he had a special surprise. Apparently, Kevin Klein has a pre-game pump up dance that he does in the Rangers dressing room, and Dom began pleading Klein to come up on stage and show us his moves. Klein obliged, but on the condition that Cam Talbot also join him on stage. What followed was the greatest 5 minutes of my life:
After that amazing display, all that was left were the auctions. Some of the items up for bid included a game-worn Stadium Series Lundqvist jersey, signed by the King himself (went for $4,000), the centre court ping pong table, signed by all players in attendance (went for $4,500), and an all-inclusive trip to a Rangers game in Boston, Montreal, New York, or Toronto, including a meet-and-greet with Dominic Moore after the game, for 8 people (went for around $25,000).
All in all, it was the perfect event on a perfect night. This is a one-of-a-kind event, where fans and players get to brush shoulders and chat over beer and food, and I highly suggest anyone with the means to attend do so. I know that I will be a Smashfest regular from here on out.