Riverside resident Eugene Kurz was running on adrenaline when he drove up to Newmarket at 7 a.m. on a Saturday morning, but there’s no rest for the president of the Toronto Stiga Table Hockey League (TSTHL) on the day of an international tournament.
Kurz started the TSTHL, which is based out of a studio at the southwest corner of Queen and River, in 2008. He had been co-ordinating the Great Canadian Table Hockey Championship at the Toronto Hobby and Games Show for two years when he was approached by Rick Grisdale, Stiga Games’ Canadian director of sales and distribution, who prompted him to take the tournament to the next level.
“His plan was to have the best table hockey tournament in Canada,” said Kurz, “The best players in the world are in Europe. They go crazy for this game, especially in Russia. They have team uniforms and coaches. They do whiteboard training. The tournaments out there are huge: 200 people!”
Ontario’s table hockey tournaments don’t attract nearly as many players as the ones in Europe, but what they lack in numbers is made up with passion and enthusiasm. Competitors and organizers alike were more than willing to take the time to reach out and explain the tricks and intricacies of the game.
Competitor Byron Yee, who plays to “bring out the kid” in him, possessed an almost startling amount of raw energy and enthusiasm and was occasionally seen leaping up and down between sets and Kurz himself has been an avid table hockey player for years.
“I’ve been playing since I was ten years old, with the flat men,” said Kurz, “This tournament is with the Stiga game and it’s certainly my favourite. There’s no dead spots, which is great and unlike the games with the flappy men, you can work out plays with pinpoint accuracy.”
Many other players, like Kurz, are rekindling a childhood love for the game while others use it as a competitive outlet or a way to take the edge off a stressful workload. They are united by their drive, passion and sense of fun.
“Table hockey in one form or another goes back to 1930…but this particular game was developed in 1957. It’s the standard of games now,” said Rick Grisdale, “None of the players that grew up with the game are trying to bring their young kids into the it and there’s a bit of a resurgence for games like table hockey that are a little more interactive than video games.”
Table hockey is, in fact, a lot harder than one might think, as I discovered firsthand when Downtown resident Salwa Whiting invited me to warm up with her.
“It’s a really fun game when you understand how it works,” said Whiting, “You don’t really require a lot of physical strength. You do require good hand-eye co-ordination, but that improves over time so anyone can get into it… It’s just learning all the tricks and the strategy aspect.”
Whiting was the tournament’s only female participant, but not the only woman there. Also in attendance were scorekeepers, parental chaperones and two hostesses hired by the TSTHL.
“Some players are geeky and shy. The duties of the hostesses are to make them feel valid and important, and they will be dressed in sexy clothing,” said Kurz, “The truth is, going to these tournaments, you’re in a room with thirty other sweaty men all day long and looking at them gets nauseating. There’s not a lot [of female players] in Canada, but there are in Europe and they’re really good. In Canada, It’s a very male- dominated sport,” said Whiting, “Hopefully more girls get into it. It’s such a welcoming environment and you never feel uncomfortable, so there’s no reason women shouldn’t be playing.”