I’ve always been better at marginal sports, and I use the term “sports” fairly lightly. I was a fair soccer player, but lacked the requisite tolerance for pain that hockey and baseball required. I didn’t even attempt to play rugby during my stint at private school, opting for cricket instead (though that was because I thought, “When am I ever going to get a chance to play cricket again?”) Ultimately, though, my sporting highlight reel would feature things like kickball, bowling, and that time I beat Lee Sheppard in a hotly contested game of Whack-A-Mole at a party on Dovercourt Rd.
It would also feature lots of table hockey. From grade 5 to grade 7, I played table hockey for hours every day with my best friend Andrew Treash. We created our own league, the THL, which featured a whole host of teams (including, presciently, a team based in Phoenix, ten years before the Coyotes), 60-minute games, and its own magazine which I wrote and illustrated. Andrew won the vast majority of the games, with his lightning speed and stellar goaltending, and we’d do play-by-play onto Maxell cassette tapes. I’m pretty sure I still have most of all that stuff: the teams, the tapes, the magazines. After all, it’s one of the main things I remember about my childhood.
In my first year of university, my roommate Andrew Jones brought in his table hockey board, perhaps thinking he could gain some kind of domestic upper-hand. Fat chance. I repeatedly trounced him in a series of best-of-7 “championships”. The last one was called the “Andrew Jones Tries To Gain Some Respect Cup” – which I swept in four games. My later roommate Dennis often met a similar fate. Poor guys; little did they know they were facing a future two-time Toronto table hockey champion.
Yes, for you lovers of subcultures, there IS a competitive table hockey circuit. And an intense one too, full of decades-old rivalries, hours of practicing, and even guys who study video. There are debates over which style of board is best: the 70’s/80’s Coleco model, or the modern Stiga boards from Sweden? The competition takes place in GTA basements, in Knights of Columbus halls in Peterborough, I even played in a tournament held in the offices of the Hamilton Spectator. The men who play – and they’re almost all men in their 30s or 40s, sometimes with their sons, dogs and the occasional wife – are Tim Hortons drinkers and easy laughers. Apart from the few truly competitive ones, they’re out have a beer and re-live their own afterschool games. But the best of the best? You'd better believe they can make a miniature puck zip faster than you can blink. They may not be professionals, but they're definitely pros.
Since my two wins at the Toronto Classic tournament in 2000 and 2001, my skills have rusted like the board I grew up playing. But recently, I’ve been eager to dig up a few boards and host a regular table hockey night. I even just picked up a vintage 1960 Eagle Toys board (pictured above). It needs a little work, but I’m hoping to have it up and running soon. Here’s hoping I can even get Andrew Treash, who now lives in the area and played in the last Toronto Classic with me, to come over for a game or two. We might never have made the NHL, but that doesn’t mean we can’t still compete for the Stanley Cup.