Ta­ble Hockey is real sport

Daily Freeman (Kingston, NY) - - SPORTS - Stan Fischler MSG Net­work Hockey An­a­lyst

No ma­jor league sport boasts spec­ta­tors who are more emo­tional and in­tensely into their game than fol­low­ers of a skim­ming, six-ounce hunk of vul­can­ized rub­ber — alias a hockey puck — on the ice.

When I re­cently vis­ited The State of Is­rael I dis­cov­ered NHL fans who — be­cause of the time dif­fer­ence — think noth­ing of awak­en­ing at four in the morn­ing to catch ei­ther the Rangers, Is­landers or Devils on TV.

That, my good friends, is de­vo­tion with a cap­i­tal D; or, per­haps, ob­ses­sion with a cap­i­tal O.

But when it comes to ab­so­lute, un­equiv­o­cal pas­sion­ate puck pur­suits, there is an­other genre of hockey fans whose za­ni­ness drifts far be­yond any nut­ti­ness found in an ice rink.

This brand of bald­faced, bizarre be­hav­ior can be found in liv­ing rooms, ho­tel suites and tav­erns, among many other sites, where the ul­tra-pas­sion­ate sport of TA­BLE HOCKEY is played.

“I liken Ta­ble Hockey to chess at seven hun­dred miles per hour,” says John Fay­olle, or­ches­tra­tor of the Fifth Annual SoHo Cup in Man­hat­tan. “And it’s get­ting more pop­u­lar by the month.

Yes, Ta­ble Hockey is boom­ing with Na­tional Ta­ble Hockey League Tour­na­ments (NTHL) all over the place, in­clud­ing one I had the plea­sure of re­cently at­tend­ing at the Novo­tel Ho­tel on Times Square.

It was the first time I ex­pe­ri­enced ma­jor league Ta­ble Hockey in its most skilled and ma­ni­a­cally in­tense form, played on a pro­fes­sion­ally crafted SoHo Ta­ble Hockey game by this rare crafts­man, Fay­olle, who also plays at the game he built.

This ul­ti­mate of a high­speed games is a lot more fun and re­al­is­tic than any of the elec­tronic video games. All six play­ers on each side move and are con­trolled by un­bend­able rods. Un­like the tra­di­tional Coleco and Munro prod­ucts of yes­ter­year, the new-era game is in­de­struc­tible.

“One rea­son for that,” Fay­olle ex­plains, “is that I use high ten­sile strength mu­sic wire rods that are al­ways per­fectly straight and will al­ways play as if they were brand new just out of the box, for the rods un­der­neath and, one the sides, ex­pen­sive ex­otic wood that can’t be found on any other game.”

Just to be sure John wasn’t kid­ding I checked out these Ta­ble Hockey rinks and the big-time play­ers at a re­cent tour­ney. What I dis­cov­ered was as­ton­ish­ing.

What I dis­cov­ered were rod-pullers from such dis­tant hockey cen­ters as Quebec City and Mon­treal, not to men­tion a bunch from the Metropoli­tan Area. They filled the ho­tel’s tour­ney pav­il­ion where emo­tions ran higher than those at a po­lit­i­cal con­ven­tion.

Stakes were higher than strato­spheric be­cause a large num­ber of con­tenders were on hand to de­throne the peren­nial champ, Carlo “The King” Bos­sio of Mon­treal.

Seeded sec­ond was an­other Mon­trealer, Sam “The Slick­ster” Anous­sis, who can­didly ad­mit­ted to me be­fore hand ad­mits that it has been al­most im­pos­si­ble de­throne peren­nial King Bos­sio.

“Carlo is the best not only for his skill,” Anous­sis ex­plained, “but also be­cause of his no-quit men­tal­ity.”

This was be­fore he semi-fi­nal had started and this time it ap­peared that The King would be ousted by yet an­other ded­i­cated foe, An­dre “Bos­ton” Pi­geon.

The pav­il­ion was abuzz with ten­sion be­cause an up­set was in the mak­ing. Bos­sio trailed by two goals with only 30 sec­onds left in the third pe­riod. Then it hap­pened.

Mirac­u­lously The King scored two goals and tied the match. “It took all I had,” he con­fessed later. “No se­cret, I kept play­ing and re­fused to give up. Frankly, I don’t know how I did it.”

But his ty­ing goal merely put the game into

over­time, alas, where Carlo is at his best. “When it comes to sud­den-death pe­ri­ods, my game plan is to vi­su­al­ize the play I’m go­ing to run and stick with that idea. I live or die on that play and it usu­ally works.” Just as he had planned it did and he beat An­dre Pi­geon, ad­vanc­ing to the Fi­nals. By this time the place was jump­ing and new­com­ers to Ta­ble Hockey such as 17-year-old spec­ta­tor Dy­lan Turner gaped in as­ton­ish­ment at the skill level be­ing pre­sented.

Be­tween the semi-fi­nal and fi­nal se­ries — and just for the fun of it — Carlo asked Dy­lan to play goal and see if the teenager, who is a star baseball player, could not The King. (P.S. He couldn’t.)

Turner: “Carlo is amaz­ing. I had no chance as he used an ar­ray of cal­cu­lated moves to score on me. Af­ter that I could ap­pre­ci­ate the skill these Ta­ble Hockey play­ers pos­sess.”

That ar­ray of rod-pullers in­cluded a chap who flew in from Ecuador and a New York City cop, Vinny “The Vin­ner” Cata­nia, who in­sisted on par­tic­i­pat­ing even though he was suf­fer­ing from a torn ro­ta­tor cuff.

“I’m like real hockey play­ers,” Cata­nia ex­plained. “I play hurt.”

But the cli­max was what ev­ery­one was wait­ing for with sec­ond-seeded Sam “The Slick­ster” Anous­sis up against his Mon­treal buddy, Carlo, The King, in a best of five se­ries for Ta­ble Hockey’s ver­sion of The Stan­ley Cup.

Up and down the rink they bat­tled at the high­est of speeds yet with un­canny skill but the Champ pre­vailed in three straight games.

At the end they shook hands just like the pros do in the NHL play­offs and The Slick­ster told The King, “Be­cause of you I have a shelf full of sec­ond­place tro­phies!”

Those — The Maven in­cluded — won­der­ing what big-time Ta­ble Hockey is all about ex­ited on to Times Square more im­pressed than we thought we’d ever be.

New­comer Turner put it best: “I walked into the event not know­ing what to ex­pect. Af­ter spend­ing an hour thrilled by the in­ten­sity, skill and sports­man­ship, I left se­cure in the knowl­edge that Ta­ble Hockey is a real sport!”

And about as nervewrack­ing as watch­ing ei­ther the Rangers, Devils or Is­landers in ac­tion.

Au­thor-colum­nist­com­men­ta­tor Stan “The Maven” Fischler re­sides in Boiceville and New York City. His col­umn ap­pears each week in the Sun­day Free­man.

PHOTO PRO­VIDED

Ta­ble Hockey ma­nia in Man­hat­tan.

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