TORONTO – Walking into a jam-packed brewery under the CN Tower — music blaring, drinks pouring, ping-pong balls bouncing, custom banners featuring the faces of the 20-plus supportive NHLers hanging — is one of Dominic Moore’s favourite moments of Smashfest, his annual summer charity ping-pong party.
“Speechless, really,” Moore said, taking in the scene of his creation Wednesday night.
Over seven summers, Smashfest has raised more than $865,000 for concussion and rare cancer research.
“Every year you get a lot of NHL guys coming out, so it’s a great event, a great cause, and Dom’s a great guy, so I’m happy to support him,” said Zach Hyman, one of several Toronto Maple Leafs in attendance.
Through the course of the evening, we had a chance to catch up with many of the hockey-turned-ping-pong players — William Nylander, Doug Gilmour, Travis Dermott, Sam Gagner, Patrick Eaves — and gathered a few nuggets.
Here are 21 of them.
1. Nylander wants to be a Maple Leaf for a long time.
With training camp just weeks away, much intrigue surrounds the Toronto Maple Leafs’ only unsigned restricted free agent.
Nylander’s agent, Lewis Gross, is in talks with GM Kyle Dubas, and the dynamic forward said he’s not looking for a bridge deal.
“Of course, I want long term. That’s what I want to do, but we’ll take it slow, day by day, and see what happens,” Nylander said.
There’s no reason to panic yet, but what if the paperwork isn’t signed when camp opens?
“I’ve not thought about that. That’s between my agent and Kyle. I’m waiting to see what happens,” Nylander said. “They’re going to negotiate it, so I don’t think that’ll be a problem.”
The sniper approves of Dubas taking over for Lou Lamoriello.
“I learned a lot from Lou. I though he was a great guy to look up to,” Nylander said. “Having Kyle with the Marlies and being around him, I learned a lot. He’s a great guy and very professional so I couldn’t say there would be a better person to take over.”
2. No fair! Patrick Eaves has his own private ping-pong coach.
Think these guys don’t take ping-pong seriously?
Eaves, who retained his championship belt Wednesday night by defeating Jeff Skinner in the final and is now a four-time repeat winner, works out weekly with his own expert instructor.
“I found a great coach out in Newport Beach, and apparently I’ve been doing it wrong for 25 years,” Eaves explained. “He kinda makes me run around. It’s fun. He’s taught me a lot about how the game is supposed to be played as opposed to beating your buddies into the ground.”
3. The secret to Eaves’ dynasty? Counterpunching and consistency.
We asked Moore to break down the champ’s approach to the table.
“He’s a very good counterpuncher, but if you ease off the gas to be more consistent, he’ll put it away. He kinda finds that balance really well. In racquet sports that’s such a key thing to be able to do. But his reflexes on both sides are phenomenal. You can’t hit a ball that he can’t get,” Moore marvelled.
“If you’re not sharp, you could hit three or four quality balls in a row, and if you don’t make the fifth, you lose the point. It’s fun to watch. People who stay to watch the final, it does get pretty impressive.”
— NHLPA (@NHLPA) August 2, 2018
4. Nylander accepts your ‘In My Feelings’ challenge, Drake.
Before hitting up Smashfest, Nylander and his Viking beard stopped by the first-ever Zach Hyman Celebrity Classic, where his dance moves overshadowed his putting skills:
William Nylander gives the #InMyFeelingsChallenge a go.
— The Leafs Nation (@TLNdc) July 30, 2018
5. Doug Gilmour rides hard for Team Tavares.
“John is a professional. He made the decision to come here, which is the right decision. And he’s going to make the team that much better. I’m a fan,” the Maple Leafs icon said. “Best of luck to him and the Maple Leafs. He’s a first-class player.”
Fun fact: Gilmour, now GM of the Kingston Frontenacs, was on the board when the OHL granted an underaged Tavares exceptional status and allowed the 14-year-old to become the youngest player drafted to the junior league.
“I looked at the kid and thought, ‘Oh, he’s small.’ I forgot I was 130 pounds when I came in,” Gilmour chuckled. “He was pretty big, actually.”
Gilmour frequently makes his way from Kingston to Toronto to watch his old club and, like all Leafs fans, is anticipating the impact of Toronto’s newfound centre depth.
“Throw the bait out there and see what they do,” Gilmour said. “The biggest thing is you might take pressure off Auston. You might take pressure off Tavares. You might take pressure off Kadri. It’s a good problem to have, guys.”
6. Gilmour wishes Leafs prospect Eemeli Rasanen didn’t leave for the KHL.
After two seasons in Kingston, the Maple Leafs second-rounder decided to go pro and join the KHL.
“Ras had a great year his first year. Last year he was kinda up and down. Didn’t play as well. It’s not our decision. I wish we had him for another year,” Gilmour said. “He’s big. He’s mean. He’s gotta work on his foot speed, but he’s a good player.”
7. Dougie can hide in plain sight.
Sources say, back in his playing days Doug Gilmour once dressed up as a Doug Gilmour fan — replica No. 93 sweater and all — to sneak unnoticed among the swarms of his own admirers into the Leafs rink. Amazing if true.
8. Travis Dermott could’ve brought the Calder Cup to Smashfest.
Just like NHLers with the Stanley Cup, the AHL-champion Marlies each get a day or two for some alone time this summer with the Calder Cup. Dermott, who joined the Marlies playoff run after the Leafs’ ended in Boston, had a few hours with his dad and the Cup on Father’s Day, but his official Cup day began Wednesday.
“I actually picked up the Cup today for my legit couple days with the Cup,” the defenceman said. “I didn’t bring it here. I was contemplating it, but I didn’t end up doing it.”
9. Eaves is jacked up about the Ducks’ new/old third jerseys.
“I was really excited to see them,” Eaves beamed. “We were hoping they’d go old-school for our big 25th year, and I think they did a great job. Growing up as a child as a fan of the Mighty Ducks, it was pretty cool to see what they came out with.”
10. You’re not alone. Sam Gagner was also taken aback by Trevor Linden’s sudden departure from the Canucks.
“It was a surprise. It came out of the blue for a lot of us,” Gagner said. “He’s meant a lot to the franchise, with everything he’s accomplished as a player and as an executive. You’re gonna miss him in that role.”
11. Gagner knows the Sedins are impossible to replace.
Though the veteran forward speaks highly of youngsters Bo Horvat and Brock Boeser (“I talked to [Boeser] recently. He’s healthy,” Gagner reported), he knows the absence of the Daniel and Henrik Sedin in the Vancouver dressing room will create a big hole.
“When you get a chance to be with them on a daily basis, see how hard they work and how they go about their business, they’re just real leaders. It’s something you can’t really replace, it’s going to have to be done by committee,” said Gagner, who is encouraged by the Jay Beagle and Antoine Roussel signings.
“The way we’re trying to play, they fit in really well to that fast-paced, in-your-face kinda hockey. For us, we need to have that mantra if we’re going to be successful.”
12. Tavares leaned on Gagner during The Decision.
“I figured my first question would be about him,” Gagner smiled upon meeting the Toronto scrum. As a friend of Tavares, Gagner saw a chance to be part of the star’s support system as he weighed his options in late June.
“Having gone through the free agency process myself [last summer], obviously at a way lower level, I know how hard it can be. There’s a lot of things weighing on your mind,” Gagner said. “I’m happy the decision is over for him and he can just focus on playing hockey and moving forward as a Leaf.”
13. Dominic Moore wants a contract, not a tryout.
An unrestricted free agent, Moore has maintained contact with a number of teams whose rosters are still in flux and is content to be patient over the next couple weeks in hopes that a job presents itself.
“It’s kind of a waiting game. It’s hard to explain on their end how these things are shaking out. On my end, you’re in contact, you hear where they’re coming from, and you weigh the options in terms of how long to wait or whether to push something to make it happen,” the centreman said.
“I’ve played how many seasons in a row now without losing a game due to injury? I think my track record [speaks for itself]. People know what I do, what I bring. A tryout doesn’t seem to make sense in that context.”
14. Moore acts as his own agent in contract negotiations.
“I didn’t do it to save money,” he explained. “It’s a lot easier for communication to go awry when there is that middleman. I prefer to have the conversations face-to-face and man-to-man, person-to-person. It’s a lot clearer that way. I can understand where the team’s coming from in terms of what they’re expecting and what the role is, and the same for them. I prefer the simplicity of it.”
15. After a trying winter, and a misdiagnosis, Eaves believes he’ll be ready for puck drop.
Due to a frightening illness, the Smashfest champ was limited to just two games with the Ducks in 2017-18. Initially, Eaves had been diagnosed with Guillain-Barre syndrome, a condition where a one’s nervous system is attacked by his immune system, but doctors later understood that Eaves was suffering from post-viral syndrome. He also needed shoulder surgery in March.
“It made me lean on everyone around me. You can be surrounded by great people, but sometimes it’s a pride thing,” Eaves said. “You don’t always want to share your difficulties. This forced my hand on that and everyone came to the table and helped out. I’m very fortunate.
“I’m excited to feel normal again.”
Prior to his diagnosis, Eaves was coming off the most productive season of his 12-year career — 32 goals and 51 points — which helped him secure a three-year, $9.45-million extension in Anaheim. He’s training hard (at hockey, too) and expects to be ready for October.
“It was a difficult year for my family and I,” Eaves said. “It was just odd. I’m excited to get back playing and get to the regular routine.”
16. Eaves trims his voluminous beard once a month to keep that bad boy in check.
“My wife hasn’t changed her mind yet,” he said, grinning through his man-thatch. “So until that happens, you guys gotta look at this ugly mug.”
17. Tennis nut Moore surprised the room with a couple special guests.
Milos Raonic and 2001 Wimbledon champ Goran Ivanisevic dropped by Steam Whistle for a few swings. An avid tennis fan and player, Moore incorporates the sport into his off-season training, hitting with the University of Tennessee men’s squad.
“They’re incredibly welcoming to me, so I’m incredibly grateful to them. It’s so fun to be out there playing at that level and cross-train and be fit,” Moore said. “Although, it’s so hot there. Hot and humid. That’s also part of the training: mental toughness.”
— NHLPA (@NHLPA) August 2, 2018
18. Moore believes Canadian men’s tennis is in a wonderful place right now.
“Raonic is playing great; he’s a threat to win any tournament he enters. And Denis [Shapovalov] is following up a great year with another great year. It would’ve been easy to have a sophomore slump as other players figure out your game and have seen you more. So the fact he’s doing so well, improving his ranking, that’s impressive,” Moore said.
“And Felix [Auger-Aliassime], the young guy, he’s going to be incredible.”
19. Nylander believes he’s ready to challenge his father.
Ping-pong runs in the Nylander genes. Moore first met William Nylander when he was a little kid running around the Rangers dressing room. As a rookie, Moore would try to defeat Michael Nylander on the team table, and Moore and Willy would do battle this past season in Toronto.
“I’ve played them both, but it’s been so long since I played Michael. I’d say Michael’s better,” said Moore, who thinks he got the better of young William. “He’d probably debate it. If we played 10 sets, I think I’d win the majority, but he’d definitely win some. He’ll argue with that.”
Said William: “My dad beat Dominic a little bit, so if I beat Dominic, maybe I’ll be better than my dad.”
William and his partner did take the pro-am doubles crown at Smashfest.
Look out, Mufasa. Simba’s coming.
20. Smashfest formed a new partnership to advance concussion research.
Dr. Arthur Brown of Western University’s Robarts Research Institute is grateful Moore reached out to funnel proceeds from the fundraiser so assist his molecular study of what happens to the brain when the head is hit.
“It’s not a treatment for today; it’s a treatment for tomorrow. Because the truth is, today, we don’t really have anything,” Dr. Brown said.
“We don’t even know why someone has a concussion. Two different athletes can get the same hit, and one gets concussed and one doesn’t. Why is that? In two weeks after a concussion, 85 per cent are better and 15 per cent aren’t. Why? How do we protect those 15 per cent to make sure they sit out longer? Who gets CTE? How do we know who they are? We don’t even know those answers. We’re at a basic level. We don’t even know who’s concussed. We don’t have a blood test for it. We have to rely on an athlete telling us. They may have motivations not to tell us.”
21. Dr. Brown is a massive hockey fan. Respect.
“When I was a kid, my adrenalin would shoot way up when I heard the theme song to Hockey Night in Canada,” Dr. Brown said. He’s concerned that parents are prohibiting children from playing contact sports out of fear, when more understanding is needed.
“We need research to dispel that fear because there’s so much good out of hockey,” he said. “I love hockey. I love football. We need to make it safe, and the only way to do that is through the power of research.”