Toronto Classic Table Hockey elevates a humble bar sport to a more competitive level.
Sports coverage tends to focus on major league teams, but every day in Toronto people make fun (and sometimes wacky) activities an important part of their lives. Sporting Goods looks at some of these.
Mark Sokolski tightens his grip on the handle as every anxious eye in the room settles on him. The puck starts to fly and with a sharp flick of his wrist, Sokolski forces the goalie to slide right and block it. He isn’t just playing hockey, he is controlling an entire team.
“Table hockey is like ice hockey, but you use tiny players set on a miniature rink to play the game. Opponents control the players with rods that connect to them from underneath the game’s surface,” explains Sokolski, the 2003 Toronto Classic Table Hockey champion.
The rules and positions are essentially the same: a goalie, centre, defensemen. No spinning is allowed. Even the structure of most table hockey tournaments is similar to the NHL Playoffs.
“Sixteen players become eight, then four, then two, and then we have the champion,” Sokolski says.
The Toronto Classic Table Hockey Championship, which Sokolski helped found at the University of Toronto in 1999, draws a long list of competitors each year.
“There are players as young as 11, and as old as 70. We do our best to draw and encourage newcomers. Before the tournament, the rules are explained and experienced players help them out. There is a game to see who the best newcomer is,” Sokolski tells Torontoist.
The championship, which is the largest in North America, recently formed a sponsorship agreement with the Toronto Marlies and a partnership with Big Brothers of Toronto. This year’s Toronto Classic will be held on April 7 at Ricoh Coliseum during a Marlies home game.
Andrew Ennals, who won the Toronto Classic in its first two years—and whom we met recently at “Table Hockey Night in Toronto,” a monthly event he hosts at the Monarch Tavern—claims one type tends to dominate the table hockey circuit.
“It’s the suburban male who loves the NHL. There are always some that show up wearing their hockey sweaters. I’m also from a small town,’’ Ennals says.
Like many adults who compete in tournaments, Ennals began playing table hockey as a child in friends’ homes.
“It’s a great game to play when you’re older because fitness isn’t a factor. You have a chance to win your Stanley Cup without having to skate,” he says.
Another table hockey competitor, Guy Mason, agrees with Ennals. Now in his mid-sixties, Mason plays the game frequently and has competed in many tournaments, including the Toronto Classic.
“It’s all about intelligence and a good memory. I’ve noticed that the best players have these traits,” he says.
According to Mason, the increasing number of attendees, some of them women, have made table hockey tournaments more intense.
“The competitive juices really get flowing. A few years ago, a shoving match broke out over a cheating accusation. I had to split up the two guys. Since then, changes have been made and situations like that don’t really occur,” he insists.
Rankings of players are available on the Ontario website, with both 16 and 60-year-olds among the elite.
However, Sokolski claims there is another reason why competition is fierce.
“Like the Stanley Cup, the Toronto Classic has a large trophy that will have the winner’s name engraved on it. There are also smaller prizes including cash, NHL memorabilia, and beer. A past winner received two cases of beer delivered to his house every month for a whole year. He almost cried.”
This article originally mistakenly said that we met Mark Sokolski “on a recent Wednesday.” In fact, Sokolski’s interview was conducted over the phone. This error was inserted in editing. Also, the article has been altered to credit Table Hockey Night in Toronto, whose details were originally omitted.