TORONTO – A warm, clear summer’s evening, a bottomless supply of beverages, and the opportunity to play a little table tennis with some NHL stars…
Smashfest may be getting old (eight years running), but it never feels that way.
As Dominic Moore’s annual charity event disguised as a gigantic ping-pong party set a new fundraising benchmark for fun, the energy of the night was palpable. Hockey fans mingled, rallied and made merry with more than 20 NHLers as balls bounced and music blared.
Indeed, Smashfest VIII was a raucous success featuring its usual champion. (Spoiler alert: Patrick Eaves, whom Moore describes as ping-pong’s Novak Djokovic, is officially a dynasty.)
Over the course of the evening, we had a chance to catch up with a bunch of the NHLers in attendance — Mark Scheifele, Frederik Andersen, Alexander Kerfoot, Jimmy Vesey, Brandon Tanev, Cam Talbot, Ben Harpur — and gathered a few on-the-record nuggets, both hockey and ping-pong related.
Here are 21 of them.
1. Frederik Andersen wants Mitch Marner to remain a Leaf ‘really, really bad’
The Maple Leafs goalie was one of two surprise guests to participate in Smashfest unannounced (Calgary’s Cam Talbot the other), and naturally he was asked about a certain teammate of his in need of a contract.
Andersen has been in touch with pal Mitch Marner but won’t bore him about business talk.
“I think he’s confident that he’s gonna be here for camp. It’s still a long time, so hopefully Kyle and him and his agent can get it done. I try not to interfere with him in that stuff,” Andersen says.
“I want to see him back really, really bad, so hopefully it works out.”
2. Mark Scheifele doesn’t regret clapping a high shot past a little boy at his camp
A hilarious video of the Jets centre sniping a high, hard puck at close range past a little kid this summer went viral (watch below). And Scheifele heard a ton of responses.
“It was all fun,” he smiles.
“Some people thought it was mean or I could’ve hurt the kid, but the kid was all the way over on the one post. I knew I wasn’t going to miss. I actually heard from a friend that the parents said the kid still hasn’t stopped talking about it. I like to think that I made him smile.
“The camp is all about having fun with the kids and interacting like that. When you see a smile like I saw after I shot that puck on that kid after, that’s worth more than anything.”
— (@Uppercut_Slut) June 24, 2019
3. Woo-hoo! Smashfest broke the million-dollar barrier
With the money raised for concussion and rare cancer research Thursday night, Smashfest has now raised more than $1 million over its eight years.
“It’s awesome,” Moore says. “That’s one of those moments where you look back and say, ‘Wow. I feel good about where we’re at and what we’ve been able to do.’ ”
4. Dominic Moore is a tennis champion
Moore, 38, quietly won the 35-and-over Ontario tennis championship this summer and will be representing his home province in the nationals next month in Toronto. Last year’s 35-plus Canadian champ went on to capture the world senior men’s title.
“Pretty legit,” says Moore, who’s always incorporated tennis into his off-season training. “I love the game, so for me it’s just fun to compete.”
5. It’s Patrick Eaves’s world… we’re just living in it
Eaves started hitting ping-pong balls when dealing with post-concussion syndrome. His eyes had difficulty tracking objects, so he used table tennis as a method to regain his hand-eye coordination.
“It was actually huge in my recovery,” Eaves says.
The Anaheim Ducks winger won his fifth consecutive Smashfest title Thursday defeating perennial contender Jeff Skinner in the singles final.
“There’s always a bit of buzz about is Eaves is beatable or is he unbeatable,” Moore says. “My personal opinion is he’s pretty much unbeatable.”
— Sportsnet (@Sportsnet) July 26, 2019
6. CuJo convinced Moore to play in the 2018 Spengler Cup
A free agent training daily with the Harvard hockey team and trying to stay ready in case an NHL club called last winter, Moore didn’t even have the Spengler Cup on his radar. Then he bumped into Curtis Joseph at a Hometown Hockey event, and the goalie raved about his experience playing for Team Canada at the end of his career. How beautiful Switzerland is, how the city of Davos rallies around the event, how enjoyable it is to wear the Red and White when you feel like your career is nearing its end.
“You should look into that,” Joseph encouraged Moore.
So Moore placed a call to Hockey Canada’s Tom Renney, who’d coached Moore when he was a rookie on the New York Rangers. A spot opened up a couple days prior to the tournament, and Moore hopped on an overseas flight.
“It was an amazing experience — just as CuJo had advertised,” Moore says. “I’d never played for Team Canada before. That alone was an awesome moment, to be able to represent Canada.”
7. Moore went straight from the Spengler to Auston Matthews’ old pad
After Canada lost the gold-medal game to KalPa Kuopio in an eight-round shootout, Moore was recruited by the Zurich Lions to play the second half of the Swiss season. He’d never thought he’d play in Europe — “I’m passionate about winning the Stanley Cup,” he says — but after speaking to so many Canadians who took pro deals in Switzerland, Moore and wife Mary decided to give it a shot.
“We could go back, wait it out and see if something breaks, or we could embrace this and live abroad,” says Moore, who would venture up the Alps or hop on a $60 flight to Venice and sightsee during days off. “We wouldn’t have traded it for anything. We went thinking we’d stay for two weeks and ended up there for four months.”
The Lions own apartments outside Zurich that they use to house their imported players.
“So when I moved in, I sent Auston a picture of the place—and it’s where he lived. He was like, ‘Oh!’ He loved it there,” Moore says. “It’s kind of in the suburbs of Zurich in a town called Winkle. Nice little place. He has fond memories of it. My wife and I loved it.”
8. Adam Fox is unlike any other defenceman Moore has seen
In his 15 years and 897 games as an NHLer, Moore has never seen a defenceman quite like Rangers rookie Adam Fox, with whom he practised for four months at Harvard.
“Foxy, I was skating with him all fall. He’s an incredible player, this guy. He’s an incredibly unique player. I know he’s your namesake so you’re rooting for him,” Moore tells me.
“I’ve never seen anyone play like him. He slows the game down the way he reads angles and gives misinformation, where he’s looking and the passes he makes. The angles he takes with his feet, it’s a little bit like [Erik] Karlsson, the way he works the blue line on the power play and sets people up and finds a way to get pucks through.
“But there’s something about Fox that’s different. It’s hard to pinpoint. I’m really rooting for him. He’s a really nice guy, quality person, and it’s awesome for him to come to the event. The Rangers have a really good player in him.”
Can he make an impact right away?
“I think so. I’m very interested to see how his game progresses and translates at the next level, but he’s a unique player. He’s going to fun to watch.”
9. Smashfest aims to expand beyond Toronto
After eight summers at Steam Whistle, Moore is finally ready to expand Smashfest and throw ping-pong parties in at least one more city in 2020. He’s had offers in L.A., New York, Montreal and Vancouver.
“We are ready to expand,” the self-described professional ping-pong event organizer proclaims. “I’m hopeful that we’re able to bring Smashfest to more people in different places next summer.”
10. “He goes by Alexander, not Alex”
Heads up: If you wish to abbreviate new Maple Leaf Alexander Kerfoot’s name, go with “Kerf,” not Alex.
Ready to take the tables at #SmashfestVIII
The annual tournament raises funds for concussion and rare cancer research. pic.twitter.com/GitUTxUH6k
11. Scheifele will only sign your face if you’re too young to drive
A grown-up Winnipeg Jets fan handed the all-star a Sharpie and asked him to autograph his face.
“I’m not going to do that here,” Scheifele said. “Maybe if you were a little kid.”
12. Andersen is exhausted by your workload narratives
As he was being asked a question about the possibility of curtailing his high number of starts for the Maple Leafs next season, Andersen said, “Oh, here we go.”
13. The highlight of Andersen’s summer? Partying at Zach Hyman’s wedding
Andersen had never attended a Jewish wedding until Hyman’s, and he loved it.
“That was a lot of fun,” Andersen smiles. “It was a little different when you lift everyone up in the chairs and break the glass and stuff. It was a lot of fun.”
14. Kerfoot believes fellow Avalanche-turned-Leaf Tyson Barrie is a better defender than you think
“He’s an extremely dynamic defenceman. He can change the game with what he brings on a day-to-day basis — his pace, his ability to make plays in the offensive end, and he’s a great teammate in the locker room,” Kerfoot says.
“There’s not many D-men that put up the types of numbers he has — and he’s more than that. People have critiqued his defensive game at times, but we’ve seen it firsthand. He’s a good defensive player as well. Sometimes people are too hard on him in that sense, but he’s a good defensive player and one of the best offensive defencemen in the league.
“Just his skill level — top guys in the league want to play with players like him.”
The kid’s got skills!
— Sportsnet (@Sportsnet) July 26, 2019
15. Andersen picked up Kerfoot and drove him to the Maple Leafs practice rink the day he arrived
Kerfoot has been impressed by the warm welcome he’s received in Toronto, where he’s already getting recognized more often in a couple days than in a whole winter in Denver. Moore suggested neighbourhoods he should go home-hunting, and Andersen offered to drive him to the Leafs’ rink for the first time.
“He told me how great it is to play here. The fans here are unlike anywhere else in the league,” Kerfoot says.
The Sabres’ Jimmy Vesey, who was centred by Kerfoot for three seasons at Harvard, believes his pal is well-equipped for the spotlight and scrutiny that awaits.
“I do. I think he has a loosey-goosey attitude — not in a bad way. Things don’t seem to bother him much. He just goes out and plays his game. He did that in college, and he’s done that the past two years. He’ll do just fine,” Vesey says.
“The way he can control the puck and see the game, his vision on the ice is, for me, some of the best I’ve seen. I was a benefactor of that in college. The way he sees the ice and controls the game, that’s his biggest strength.”
16. Vesey wasn’t surprised at all by his trade to Buffalo
“Rumblings, rumours, agent… this day and age, it’s hard to keep stuff hush-hush. A couple weeks before the trade, I had people sending me stuff online,” says Vesey.
The new Sabre was touched that respected veterans Kyle Okposo and Zach Bogosian reached out to him right away to welcome him into the fold.
17. Look out: Jack Eichel is already in beast mode
Vesey has been training daily and hitting the ice three times a week with new teammates Evan Rodrigues and Jack Eichel.
“He’s a specimen of an athlete. That maybe shows more true in the gym. Not a lot of guys can keep up with what he does in the gym. Last year was bittersweet with that good start, but he wants to be in the playoffs. You might use the word frustration, but knowing Jack for a while, he’s just a competitor. He’s the captain of the team. He was drafted second overall, and he wants to be the best,” Vesey says.
“His weights are off the chart, but it’s his athleticism. His running and his jumping is on par with a lot of guys in other sports, and we play on skates. He’s a world-class athlete.”
18. Poutine tastes even better when smothered in mushrooms and bacon
19. Ben Harpur feels Cody Ceci gets a bad rap
Packaged together in an intraprovincial trade from Toronto on Canada Day, defenceman Ben Harpur has spent his entire NHL career with Cody Ceci.
In some circles Ceci’s $4.5-million contract with the Leafs was ripped for being too rich, but Harpur believes his PK partner deserves more respect than he’s gotten lately.
“Just playing with him and seeing him grow as a player, he’s really good. I feel he’s underrated in that sense. He doesn’t get a lot of credit for the minutes he plays and the opponents he plays against, especially in Ottawa,” Harpur says.
“I’m really excited for him to have a fresh start here in Toronto. I know he’s excited about it as well.”
— Sportsnet (@Sportsnet) July 26, 2019
20. Brandon Tanev is jacked to join Sidney Crosby
Crosby and Matt Murray were the first Penguins to welcome the former Jet to the Eastern Conference once the free agent inked an eye-popping $21-million deal on July 1.
Tanev vows to earn his keep by being “physical, fast and tenacious.”
“It’s going to be a nice change of pace going to Pittsburgh,” Tanev says. “Any chance to go out on the ice with the best player in the world is something very special. To learn from him and take things from his game is going to be interesting and good for my game as well.”
21. Carter Hart called Cam Talbot before his first NHL start
By the time Talbot was dealt to Philadelphia last season, he figures young Carter Hart didn’t need any of his advice.
The two trained together last summer and formed a bond strong enough that Hart wanted to talk to Talbot before his first career start, a win, on Dec. 18.
“He can always lean on me if he needs to. He knows I’ll be there for him, but he showed what he can do. Everyone knows what he’s capable of now,” says Talbot.
The newest Calgary Flame goalie was asked to project the 20-year-old’s ceiling.
“Honestly, he could do something really special,” Talbot says. “He’s got that kind of potential. He’s very cerebral when he’s in there. He thinks the game. He’s a student of the game. He always wants to get better. The sky’s the limit for that kid.”