Table Hockey is real sport
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.
Table Hockey mania in Manhattan.