TORONTO — Looking out at a brewery brimming with happy partygoers and streaked with flying ping-pong balls, Dominic Moore couldn’t help but feel proud Thursday night.
The sixth edition of his signature fundraiser hidden within a grand ol’ tennis table party was his first as a member of the Toronto Maple Leafs.
“There’s a little extra buzz to it this year for me,” Moore smiled.
And he wasn’t referring to the gathered fans’ favourite type of bar (open) or the brand-new coffee whiskey being sampled. (A well-placed industry source says it was “Delicious.”)
The energy of the evening was palpable, as hockey fans mingled, rallied and made merry with more than 20 NHLers, including a healthy contingent of Moore’s new teammates.
“A big part of the event is letting the fans see a different side of the players. They’re out of their equipment. It’s a social environment, and you can see what their personalities are like,” Moore said.
Smashfest VI was a raucous success featuring a familiar champion.
Over the course of the evening, we had a chance to catch up with some of the NHLers in attendance — Taylor Hall, Alex Burrows, Matthew Tkachuk, Patrick Eaves, and all the Maple Leafs — and gathered a few on-the-record nuggets, both hockey and ping-pong related.
Here are 21 of them.
1. First and foremost, the party is for an excellent cause.
Moore’s efforts have now raised $665,000 for the Katie Moore (rare cancers) and Steve Moore (concussions) foundations.
This year, the player focused his fundraising on a brand-new, “more bang-for-your-buck” initiative called the Rare Cancer Cell Line Factory, which is run by Cambridge’s Broad Institute, a progressive research lab associated with MIT and Harvard, the latter Moore’s alma mater.
“We really wanted to spend the money well. In cancer research, it’s really easy to be a drop in the bucket, even with a large sum,” Moore says. “The potential there is incredible.”
The Broad is collaborating with researchers and hospitals all over the world for this special pilot project, explained nicely in this video:
2. Scientists can have fun, too.
Dr. Jesse Boehm, the associate director of the Broad Institute Cancer Program, popped by Smashfest to see the funding for his patient-driven project in action and was blown away by the “incredible energy” at Steamwhistle.
“Scientists often toil in anonymity not realizing there’s so much enthusiasm to make meaningful progress and get the job done,” Boehm said. “It’s really inspiring and provides a lot wind in your sails.”
As one of the senior investigators in finding cures for rare cancers, Boehm works with a team of 15 scientists inspired by Moore’s passion for the initiative.
“With Dom, it’s way more than the cheque. He was just here in the lab a couple of weeks ago. Put on gloves, put on a lab coat, wanted to look at cells under a microscope, asked the teams some really good scientific questions. It’s really exciting to see someone who’s really engaged in the intellectual part of the research,” Boehm said.
“When an NHL player comes into the lab and says, ‘Wow, you’re doing something awesome. Keep it up,’ that value goes beyond the financial contribution, which is also very important.”
3. Defending champion Patrick Eaves got a new Killerspin paddle for the event…
— RealPatrickEaves (@Patrick_Eaves) June 16, 2017
4. …and Eaves’s eggs-ellent training regime paid off in a third straight championship:
— RealPatrickEaves (@Patrick_Eaves) July 18, 2017
Closely watching the final, yet another showdown between Eaves and Ottawa’s Burrows, Moore sensed a threepeat: “Eaves is just more consistent.”
5. Smashfest approached Upper Deck with the fun idea of pressing up NHLer ping-pong trading cards.
“As a card collector growing up, this would be amazing,” Moore thought. “Let’s pitch them on making a custom set for us. They were all about it. I’m super-pumped. It’s very unique. Card collectors know: The more limited edition they are, the better they are. And they’re cards with the players at the event instead of in their equipment.”
Fittingly, the set ends at 21. Everyone in attendance was given a pack.
2017 Upper Deck NHLPA Smashfest Series checklist
SF-1 Dominic Moore SF-2 Logan Couture
SF-3 Jeff Skinner SF-4 Tyler Seguin
SF-5 Martin St. Louis SF-6 Phil Kessel
SF-7 Steven Stamkos SF-8 Milos Raonic
SF-9 Doug Gilmour SF-10 Jason Spezza
SF-11 Smashfest SF-12 Patrick Eaves
SF-13 Derick Brassard SF-14 Alex Burrows
SF-15 Aaron Ekblad SF-16 Chris Kreider
SF-17 Mitch Marner SF-18 Sean Monahan
SF-19 Antoine Roussel SF-20 Cam Talbot
SF-21 Tom Wilson
6. Moore still keeps a special box in his bedroom to hold his most prized cards from childhood.
“I remember anticipating one for a long time and saving up and going to the convenience store to get a pack and try to get it: the Ken Griffey Jr. rookie card,” he says. “Ironically, it wasn’t a hockey guy, but there was so much buzz around that card. I still have it.”
7.The Maple Leafs turned out in full force.
Last year, Mitch Marner represented the Blue and White, whose ping-pong heyday appeared to have peaked with the epic Phaneuf-Kessel matches of lore:
“Being from Toronto, we’ve got four of the guys from our team here, so we get to joke around and play around with each other,” Hyman said. “It’s summertime, and you see the buzz already, especially with the additions we’ve made. Everybody’s excited come September for camp. It’s going to be a great year.”
(We asked Hyman if he spent his newfound riches on anything yet, and Brown burst out laughing: “He’s saving it!”)
When Moore was getting acquainted with his new/old team, he spotted two tables at the MasterCard Centre — a comforting sign.
The veteran forward fondly recalls battling William Nylander’s father back when he was drafted by the Rangers.
“Michael Nylander was one of the good ping-pong players in New York. He’d be the only guy I’d have competitive matches with. We’d play a lot,” Moore says.
“Sometimes it would be long after practice was over, and his kids would be around, so I’m assuming one of them was William.”
8. But the best young Leaf ping-ponger was absent.
Nylander, apparently, inherited his father’s table tennis gene.
“At the Combine they do a tournament, and I think he won that,” Brown said. “I think he is pretty good. He’s got the good hands.”
Nylander, apparently, was in Sweden. Otherwise he’d like to have participated Thursday. Ditto Daniel Alfredsson, the tournament’s white whale.
Alfie always answers the NHLPA’s call to participate in Smashfest but crossing the ocean to whack a tiny white ball has proven an obstacle. So Alfie’s Godfather status remains legend only.
“He could beat most of the guys left-handed,” Moore said. “That’s the word on the street. He’s an athlete. I’ve heard he’s a good tennis player, too.”
9. Skinner is a sandbagger.
Word on the street is that repeat contestant Jeff Skinner had been training intensely for the event but downplays his own skills.
“There’s some sandbaggers—guys who are pretending they haven’t been practising for the event but they really have. You can tell,” Moore said. “Eaves is not a guy to talk smack. There’s a lot of guys talking smack about Skinner—that he’s one of the sandbaggers.”
The Hurricanes star won the pro-am doubles title but lost an intense quarterfinal singles match to first-timer Ryan Spooner — an outcome predicted by Moore.
“I hear Skinner’s been taking lessons and practising five nights a week,” the host said prior to the event. “Ryan Spooner, my ex-teammate from Boston, is coming specifically to knock Skinner out of the tournament.”
— Smashfest (@_Smashfest) July 21, 2017
10. Taylor Hall hearts Mike Cammalleri.
The New Jersey star says he’ll miss the veteran winger, who was bought out by the Devils and signed by the Kings as a one-year, $1 million bargain.
“I love Cammy,” Hall said. “As a teammate and a player, I learned a lot from him. We sat beside each other in the room, and I was always bouncing stuff off him. For him as a player, he had an unlucky year. Some untimely injuries. He’s a guy who can still produce in this league, and he’s going to do great in L.A. You gotta respect the team’s decision, but it’s certainly sad to see him go.”
On the sunny side, Hall was excited to learn that friend and new Islanders winger Jordan Eberle was headed to the Tri-state area, giving him a dinner buddy.
“It’s going to be fun to have him close,” said Hall, who flies off to attend Eberle’s wedding in Calgary this weekend. “Hopefully we have some good battles next year.”
— NHLPA (@NHLPA) July 21, 2017
11. Hall gives me an excuse to drop a rap song into a hockey blog.
Because his schedule sadly clears up by mid-April, Hall went to Coachella for a vacation after the regular season ended.
“You almost have to forget about hockey and decompress and find something to take your mind off it. I’ve had some practice at that a little bit,” Hall said.
“I went to Palm Springs and spent a few days there. Great experience, awesome music. It’s fun to do stuff like that after hockey’s done. Future was awesome. He lit up the crowd. That was the first time I saw him play live, and I was blown away by his talent and what he brought to the stage. He [brought out] Drake and Migos. It was an awesome set.”
12. Hall moved to Toronto to ramp up his training.
This way he can skate more regularly with NHLers. He’s already been on the ice for six weeks. Normally, he wouldn’t stap on the blades until August.
“Jays games, events like this, there’s always something going on,” he said of Toronto. “A bit faster pace than what I’m used to in Kingston.”
13. Ron MacLean is hanging on to the NHL Olympic dream.
“I’m holding out hope. I really am,” the Hockey Night in Canada host said after his match with young Flames forwards Matthew Tkachuk and Sam Bennett.
“Elliotte Friedman is the source I respect the most on this issue. He said it would take a miracle, and I think Elliotte is very dialed in. His sense is, it’s bleak, and I tend to abide by Elliotte’s research.
“But my own personal view is that there are levers of power—including American network television—that still may influence this and create a happy outcome for fans.”
Don’t tease us, Ron.
14. The Flames didn’t take a single playoff game off the Ducks, but Matthew Tkachuk still believes they could’ve won the series.
“It’s crazy how much more intense it is. Everybody says that, but it’s really noticeable as a player,” Tkachuk said of his first NHL post-season. “You expect there to be some jump, but you don’t realize how every shift, every single time you touch the puck, somebody’s on you. Everybody’s back-checking hard.”
15. Dad was right: Jet lag is the enemy.
Once Matthew got drafted to Alberta, his father, Keith, warned him how taxing the travel would be.
“Some nights you’re playing back-to-back in different time zones. I remember him telling me the travel is tough where I am,” Tkachuk said. “You have to play your best every game, but some games, your body is telling you other than that.”
16. Eaves had a feeling he might be more than a rental for the Anaheim Ducks right away.
“On Day 1, something different. When I walked in and saw the guys at breakfast in the morning, I felt comfortable, and I wasn’t sure how I’d feel. That made my antenna go up, and it worked itself out.”
As a free agent coming off a career performance, the winger could’ve had his pick from a number of teams this summer but didn’t test the market. Back in high school, Eaves had skated with Ryan Kesler in the U.S. program, and he knew Antoine Vermette from their Ottawa days.
“I gravitated toward those two, but then I found out that it’s such a tight group as a whole, I kinda got along with everybody. That’s something that’s really important to me—a tight-knit locker room.”
Suffering a lower-body injury versus the Oilers, Eaves felt frustrated sitting out the Western Conference final, but assures he’s 100 per cent healthy now.
“Not fun at all. I wanted to be out on the ice helping the team, but I wasn’t able to,” he said. “I was proud of the effort the boys put out there. We had a good run.”
17. Even the pros have printer issues.
What happens when your boss sends you a three-year, $9.45 million contract but you can’t print it out to sign it? You go next door for help.
“We came to an agreement on the contract, and our printer wasn’t working, so we had to go to the neighbours and use their printer and scan it back. So they were in on it. And the next morning we awoke to those ducks on the lawn,” explained Eaves, when I asked about one of his most memorable tweets.
“They enjoy hockey. Jen and Paul are just good people, so it was cool to share that night with them. We were just sitting in the cul-de-sac enjoying ourselves, and that was there the next morning. You have to tip your hat to a move like that.”
— RealPatrickEaves (@Patrick_Eaves) June 24, 2017
18. Undrafted Alex Burrows “totally” sees a lot of himself in undrafted Antoine Roussel.
“A lot of people overlooked him and never thought he’d have a chance,” Burrows said.
“He’s a crazy French guy that’s ready to do anything to play in the NHL. I’ve been working out with him for a number of years in the summertime, and he’s one of the most intense guys I’ve seen in the gym. His preparation in the summer pays off. Every year he has a bigger role on his team. Dallas did a good job scouting him and they’re happy with him ever since.”
19. The Senators players feel the same way about Mike Condon as we do.
We asked Burrows how important it was for Ottawa to bring back its backup goaltender in free agnecy.
“Huge,” Burrows said. “I got there and Craig [Anderson] was already back, but I remember going to dinner with the boys, and every one of them said the same thing: ‘Mike saved the season for the Senators.’ He really gave them a chance to win when Craig was gone to be beside his wife.
“Unfortunately you can only play one goalie and Craig was so good in the playoffs for us. I’ve always believed to get to the playoffs in the NHL, you need two good goalies. Right now we have a great duo with Mike back for a number of years.”
20. Marc Methot will be difficult to replace, though. (Also: it’s OK to call Erik Karlsson “Karl,” apparently.)
“He’s a huge loss. He was a key player who played big minutes in the playoffs. On and off the ice, he’s a character guy who plays well and takes care of his teammates. He was such a good player with Karl, too, playing alongside of him against top lines,” Burrows said.
“With expansion, you have to let someone go. As an organization, it’s tough, but we have some depth with [Thomas] Chabot coming up. We’ll do our best without him, but he’ll be missed.
“I’ve always been a sports nerd. The expansion draft was fun to watch. It’s interesting to see how management went and got a lot of left-handed defencemen—they saw something attractive about that, to move a few guys for prospects or draft picks.”
21. Roger Federer is high on the Smashfest bucket list.
Milos Raonic has dropped by the party in the past, and Moore says Daniel Nestor is a hockey junkie who wins the ATP fantasy hockey pool every year, but there is one tennis star Moore is aiming to attract.
“I’d love Roger to come to one of these years, but we’ll keep that on the wish list,” says Moore, who flew to Wimbledon and caught part of Federer’s championship run. “I have a relationship with people on his team, so I met him through them once at the U.S. Open.
“He’s an extremely inspiring guy. At his age, to be doing what he’s doing, he’s extremely fit. There’s a guy who’s a great example of the preparation side of [athletics]. He took time off. He went back to the drawing board in terms of his preparation, his fitness, his health. Especially in that sport, to be doing what he’s doing at that age, injury-free, it’s incredible.”