Last weekend the Tampa Bay Lightning had their annual Bolts Family Carnival. For roughly three hours Lightning fans, for a nominal fee, could interact with the players and staff by getting their picture taken with them and playing a host of games such as table hockey, foosball, and table tennis.
While the captain hasn’t returned to the ice, Steven Stamkos was on hand and ready to compete. Raw Charge writer @GeoFitz4 captured a shot of him in action at the Ping Pong table.
What does Dominic Moore have to do with Stamkos and table tennis? For the last five years the former Lightning center has hosted a celebrity table tennis tournament called Smashfest to benefit concussion and cancer research. The proceeds are split between the Katie Moore Foundation, created to honor Dominic’s wife who passed away in 2013 from a rare form of liver cancer, and the Steve Moore Foundation, created by Dominic’s brother and former NHL player Steve Moore to help with treating and preventing concussions in sports.
Over the five tournaments that Moore has hosted, more than 70 NHL players have participated, including former Lightning players Marty St. Louis, Vincent Lecavalier, Zenon Konopka, Kevin Weekes, Teddy Purcell, Ryan Shannon, Brett Connolly, and Steven Stamkos. Combined, these events have raised over $500,000 for charity.
Why table tennis? Moore explained in an article for the Players’ Tribune:
“I think why so many guys gravitate toward Ping-Pong is that it tests some of the same attributes you use in sports, but it’s also completely removed from the scrutiny and pressure of performance-as-profession.”
Stamkos was not very confident in the first tournament in 2012, stating that his “chances of getting out quick are very high.” Former teammate and favorite Lecavalier did give him a backhand compliment by saying that “I don’t think he [Stamkos] is a strong player. He’s got a lot of heart though. So you never know.”
Neither player won that first year - Ryan Shannon claimed the honors. Another former member of the Lightning, Stephane Veilleux would win the next two years. There must be something in the Lightning locker room that grooms great table tennis players. Even legend Marty St. Louis was obsessed with the game.
Stamkos has never won the tournament (Patrick Eaves and his beard are the current two-time champions) but he does have the distinction of being featured on a trading card playing ping pong. In 2016 Upper Deck and the NHLPA released an 11-card set featuring some action from the 2015 Smashfest. Stamkos, in a black ball cap and white t-shirt is shown intently focused on a return.
Not many cards have appeared in the secondary market despite Upper Deck confirming that over 1,000 sets were produced. For Stamkos collectors this card will lead to an interesting chase.
In all likelihood Smashfest will return to the Steam Whistle Brewery again this upcoming summer. Maybe this is the year Stamkos can upend the favorite and add a table tennis championship to his trophy collection.