Smashfest: Charitable yet competitive ping-pong by NHL players

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Eaves - Smashfest 2016 | NHLPA
Eaves - Smashfest 2016 | NHLPA

Reporting by Dhiren Mahiban

TORONTO – – For the second time in as many years Patrick Eaves walked away from the annual Smashfest Ping-Pong tournament as the champion. The Dallas Stars forward defeated Alex Burrows of the Vancouver Canucks to reclaim his title at the charity event on Thursday night.

Several current and retired NHLers participated in the event at Steam Whistle Brewery in downtown Toronto including Aaron Ekblad, Jeff Skinner, Derick Brassard and Sam Bennett.

According to Ekblad, the event showcases the brotherhood of the hockey community.

“It doesn’t matter what team you’re on, a lot of us understand that it’s great to come together whether it’s a golf tournament or Ping-Pong tournament – to be a part of something bigger than you as a player and it’s great that the guys are coming together to raise money for such good causes,” said the Panthers blue liner.

Dominic Moore, the event’s creator, began the tournament five years ago in an effort to raise money for cancer research after his wife, Katie, lost her battle with liver cancer. Smashfest now raises funds for both cancer research and The Katie Moore foundation as well as concussion research and The Steve Moore Foundation.

Steve Moore, Dominic’s older brother, was forced to retire after just 69 NHL games due to lingering effects of a concussion suffered in March 2004.

“It starts with causes,” Dominic Moore said of Smashfest. “It starts with trying to make an impact on some neglected, under-funded causes, but when you’re here, you’re not thinking about that, you’re just having fun. That’s our mission that everyone leaves here with a smile on their face and everyone, while they’re here, are just having the time of their life.”

Eric Lindros, recently named a 2016 inductee to the Hockey Hall of Fame, understands the importance of concussion research. The 43-year-old had his career cut short due to concussions.

“Obviously rare cancers are really important, any help that can go that way is fantastic and with Steve (Moore) going through what he’s gone through in the past, concussions, we have to stay on top of things,” Lindros said. “We have to come up with some solutions. We need to be spending money on research, research is what’s going to give us tangible solutions.”

It may just be a charity event in the midst of their off-season, but several players take their Ping-Pong seriously. A number of the participants on Thursday showed up with custom paddles including Skinner and Eaves.

Skinner is a regular a the downtown Toronto Ping-Pong social club, SPiN where he hones his skills along with friends in the off-season.

Dominic Moore, currently an unrestricted free agent, chose Ping-Pong as the theme for his charity event because of the role the game plays in locker room culture around the league, but as Burrows, a tournament veteran can attest, not all coaches are fond of the pastime.

“We used to play everyday back in the days with AV (Alain Vigneault),” Burrows said. “When Torts (John Tortorella) came, he kiboshed the Ping-Pong table so we didn’t play that year, but now we’ve brought it back a little bit.”

Burrows, who failed to win the Pro-Am event for a third consecutive year, picked up the game while growing up in Pincourt, Que.

“I remember coming out of class, at the ring of the bell, we’d sprint to the Ping-Pong table to be the first one there to play the first game,” he said. “I think in high school we used to play quite a bit. That was one of the sports in gym class, Ping-Pong while others were playing badminton. That’s where it all started.”

In addition to the familiarity of Ping-Pong in rooms across the league, Moore wanted a way for fans who paid $250 or $1,000 for attendance packages to get to see a more human side of the players.

“We had thought ‘man this would be the perfect event theme to bring the player’s personalities out, showcase that, showcase their athleticism, the personalities’ and it’s social,” Moore said. “Ping pong is the kind of thing everyone can play and everyone can enjoy it. It just seemed like the perfect thing and with the help of the NHLPA we put it together five years ago now.”

UPDATE: NHLPA released fundraising figures after initial publication.