There was a lot of money raised for charity during this week’s Smashfest, but who took home the trophy as the NHL’s top ping-pong player?
By Rachel Villari
It isn’t uncommon to hear players refer to their organization like families, the rink like their home and their teammates like brothers. And while few would dispute these claims, the last one has particular resonance if you’ve ever spent the evening with dozens of NHLers, four state of the art ping-pong tables, unlimited beverages and a trophy on the line.
As Tyler Seguin and Michael Del Zotto heckled the referees’ calls, Sean Monahan (who is incredibly not-boring) was sure to make a scene laughing at Jeff Skinner’s whiff of a serve, as fans who paid $1,000 witnessed this brotherhood play out first hand teaming up for doubles games with the pros. Such was the setting for Dominic Moore’s fourth annual Smashfest Charity Ping-Pong Challenge, hosted to raise awareness and donations for rare cancer and concussion research.
“It’s hard to believe it’s already been four years, but this event just continues to grow,” Moore said. “Once again we have 30 NHL players back in action. I’m very grateful for their support and for them to come back. It’s an amazing community we have of hockey players that come together and make this night so unique and so special.”
The original event raised $20,000 and over the past three years Smashfest has donated $270,000 to the Katie Moore Foundation and the Steve Moore Foundation. A significant donation of this year’s money raised will be made to a collaborative research program between the University of California San Francisco and Princess Margaret Hospital in Toronto. Spectators could watch the competition for $250, as well as enjoy free food and drink.
“It’s amazing,” said Moore, when asked about the growth of the event, both in popularity and in support it can provide to research important to him. “It started with the seed of an idea, which was a little bit quirky, but we had a team of people that believed in this unique idea from the very beginning.”
As fun as smashing ping-pong balls across the tables with the intent to hit one another is, the players had just as much fun chasing stray balls as they ricocheted through thick crowds, stealing each other’s paddles and chirping as if they were back home on the ice.
“A lot of people don’t know that there is a ping-pong table in every dressing room in the league,” Moore shared. “And I had an idea to come up with an event and thought it was the perfect thing. It’s social, it’s fun and it brings out personalities, and hockey players don’t necessarily get a chance to bring out their personalities that often, so I think that’s why this event has been so well received.”
The guys agree.
“It’s a true testament to Dominic and the kind of guy he is and how respected he is around the league,” said Peter Holland, who attended the very first Smashfest. “And just how important the causes are that he’s raising money for. It’s great; it’s a great event. There’s a lot of returnees so that means it’s very successful and people enjoy coming, too.”
This year, however, there was an element to raise the stakes.
“Part of the reason this event is special is that this is the arena where rankings will be established,” Moore said. “An NHL ping-pong champion will be crowned here tonight. This year will be the most competitive Smashfest we’ve had yet.”
Logan Couture of the Sharks – a four-year ping-pong veteran – entered the tournament with one thing on his mind.
“Redemption,” he said.
Stephane Veilleux, 2014’s reigning champ, had given him a shellacking last year en route to winning charity bragging rights. But Couture, whose season ended April 11, was eager to step back in the ring for some competition.
“He beat me 12-1, 12-1 last year, so this year maybe I’ll get two points,” he joked. “He’s incredible. He’s pretty much a pro ping-pong player.”
After graciously losing the opening match against special guest tennis superstar Milos Raonic, Moore made the rounds both in his individual tournament and on the floor, speaking with many attendees and fans as the NHLers around him preformed acrobatics to stay in the game and make it to the trophy round. (Or, if you’re New York Rangers center Kevin Klein, maybe you preformed some kind of dancing, fight-song ritual to help get you in the game.)
Moore was ever grateful for all the support, no matter the way it was shown. He thanked the event’s organizers, its sponsors, the attendees and the players multiple times throughout the evening.
“The hockey community is like a brotherhood,” he said. “I just can’t say enough about these guys.”
At the end of the evening there was a silent and live auction, including the state of the art, Killerspin ping-pong table at center court, which all attendees autographed to benefit the charities.
All in all, Couture did not get to exact his plan of revenge, as Veilleux made it all the way to the finals again, only to fall to the new kid in town: Dallas Stars right winger Patrick Eaves was crowned the NHL’s newest ping-pong champion.