The Ottawa Journal from Ottawa,  on May 25, 1974 · Page 81
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The Ottawa Journal from Ottawa, · Page 81

Ottawa, Canada
Issue Date:
Saturday, May 25, 1974
Page 81
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Fiddling and twiddling with the greatest. Table hockey at the international level is no piddling little game : By Chris Zelkovich THIS IS the Hall of Cities Ballroom of the Marriott Inn in Chicago. It has seen many a businessmen's convention in its time, many an elegant dinner, but never anything like this. There are no well-dressed sales executives here today, no ice cubes clinking in cocktail glasses, no stuffy speeches. The order of the day is blue jeans and hockey sweaters; the drinks are swigged straight from the can. Surrounded by the wall-to-wall carpet and the elegantly panelled walls are not businessmen and politicians, but competitors in the first United States Open Table Hockey Tournament. This is the big time. The US Open is the eighth major table hockey tournament in the past three years and the richest, with $2,000 in prize money. They've come from almost every corner of the continent. They've flown from New York, Montreal and Toronto, driven from Sarnia and bussed the 1,747 miles from Edmonton. For many, months of preparation have preceded this event. It's almost midnight; the playdowns to decide the singles winner have been in progress for more than 10 hours. Those still competing have played as many as 20 five-minute table hockey games 100 minutes of concentrated wrist movements. Grant Ainsley of Edmonton has won the first three games in his quarterfinal round, has lost but one game all day and appears on his way to the semi-finals. He is an intense competitor, seldom showing emotion, seldom tipping off an opponent to his weaknesses. But his opponents have noticed a weakness not a mechanical one, but a psychological one. "You've" played him once, Albi," says one onlooker, loud enough to be heard by Ainsley. "He's only got one play. Now you know it." "The left-wing turnaround slapshot tipped in by the centre," says another. "That's all he's got." Others pick up the jibes. Ainsley's susceptibility to being psyched out is 12 - WHteW MtalM. My 25, 174 beginning to show. In table hockey, handling the pressure is half the battle. Ainsley's patience begins to wear thinner. He starts an argument with the referee. He grips the control knobs tighter, starts making bad plays. Could it be that he does have only one play? The psyche job has worked. He loses his last three games and is out of the running, the victim of pressure and the effects of a three-day bus ride. He and Brian Carp, both students , at Victoria Composite High School in Edmonton, got off the bus from Alberta the previous morning after managing only three hours sleep. "It cost us about $300 apiece for this," Carp says, adjusting the tape on his wrist. "But it was worth it. We would have been in better shape if we had had more sleep, though." The pair have been practising four hours a week for the past two months in preparation for this tournament, and both agree that the investment in time and money was worthwhile. "We came here for a number of reasons," Ainsley says. "Competition, fun, a vacation from school and maybe to prove that we're as good as any of these guys. "I don't see where they're much better than Brian and I. We got a little mad reading those magazines that said these guys were so good." Carp and Ainsley are typical of many who travel to the table hockey tournaments. They've heard about the big names and want to prove that they can play as well as anyone. Allan Ryan, a sportswriter from Toronto, got on the tournament tour the same way. "It's more a social thing with me now than anything else," he says. "Everybody starts out with their basement league and then maybe a neighborhood league. Then you read that so-and-so has won the World Table Hockey Association championship. "Your first reaction is outrage. 'What? How can these guys say they're world champs? They haven't played us yet!' So you save up and IS V ' I J. YW J Photograph by Nick Pull go to the next tournament and show 'em. Except you usually find out that these guys really are good." -. He smoothes out. his engineer's cap, chugs on a beer and heads for his room.. "I've been to seven tournaments," he adds. "I guess I've won . more than I've lost. My problem is that I always end up drinking too much." In front of another quarter-final game, a 'member of the Brooklyn Raccoons entertains a radio reporter. - ."Oh yeah, we train very hard for this," he deadpans. "Myself, I do isometrics. If you had a camera here I'd demonstrate. Ifs all a matter of pitting one hand against the other and pushing for a specific period of time . . ." The reporter nods in under-' standing. . Table hockey players enjoy playing up to their public image. John Curran of Montreal is battling New Yorker Mel Friedman in another quarter-final round. Curran is undefeated after five quarter-final games while Friedman has lost just once to Curran. Friedman, who recently abandoned wearing a goalie's mask while playing, sprinkles his hands with baby powder. He wishes Curran the best of luck. Curran nods. "Nice shot," Friedman says as play starts. "Nice touch. Good pass. Ooh, good save!" He, too, is attempting the psyche, but it isn't working. Curran executes play after play, exhibiting championship passing skill. With two minutes left in the game, he scores on a tip-in to- advance to the semifinals. A 17-year-old student at Dawson College,-Curran has as much desire to win this tournament as anyone. He was the victim of an historic fifth-overtime loss to fellow Montrealer Mike Ettinger in the 1974 Canadian Open at Loyola College. He has accomplished much in the world of table hockey in a very short time. "I've played since I was a kid," he says, "and when I heard about the first tournament at Loyola last year I figured I was pretty good, so I went. But I didn't do too well. I didn't know any plays or anything. These guys were something else." Spurred by his poor showing at the 1973 Open, Curran worked on- his plays in preparation for this year's tourney. After his heart-breaking loss to Ettinger, the eventual champion, he took the earnings from his paper route and headed for Chicago. En route, he ran into the table hockey player's old nemesis public opinion. "I sure had trouble going through Customs," he laughs. "The guy just wouldn't believe that I was coming here to play table hockey. I finally had to show him a magazine I had in my suitcase. He let me through, but he was still looking kinda funny at me." The tournament is at the semi-final stage now with Curran facing Albi Gorn of New York. The other semi- finalists are Tom McMahon and Greg "44 Thumbs" Muench, younger brother of one of the game's legendary figures. Dean "88 Thumbs" Muench. Ifs now past 1:30 AM. The length of the day is beginning to show on the competitors, especially Curran, whose eyes are puffy from 12 and a half hours of table hockey. Gorn and Curran are contrasts in style. Curran sits while playing, Gorn stands. Curran heralds his goals with a barely-discernible nod, Com with a loud dap of his hands and a cheer. , Curran wins the first game 7-2, but Gorn takes the second 4-3. Prior to the start of the third and deciding game. Com gets a shoulder massage from Friedman. "OK, Albi baby," Friedman says, "You got him now." Curran is alone. Most of the Canadians have long since left. The majority of the spectators are cheering for the American boy. A tip-in goal early in the first five-minute period gives Curran the lead. Just before the end of the period, a Curran pass ricochets off the boards into Corn's net Curran throws his hands up to his eyes, all but apologizing for the goal. As the second period starts, the pressure is etched more "vividly on the faces of the competitors. The winner of this game is guaranteed $200 and a crack at the $500 first prize, not to speak of a mention in the annals of table hockey. The loser wins either $75 or $25 and the memories of a "missed-it-by-that-much" showing. Many a potential table hockey champ has been ruined by the pressure. The pair exchange goals early in the second period before Gom comes within one goal by scoring from the point. Pressure mounts as the third period starts. Both play conservatively, neither willing to take a gamble that could leave a vulnerable opening. Curran is within a minute and a half of victory when Gom scores to tie the game. The cheers have barely died when Gorri scores directly from the faceoff. He now leads 4-3. Faced with the reality of defeat, Curran abandons his defensive play and goes on the attack. He hurls a barrage of shots at Gom, but the New Yorker is able to turn them all aside. "A couple of fast goals . . . they killed me," Curran says after the game. "I'm awfully tired, too . . . but I'm not using that as an excuse . . ." At 3:30, after 14 hours of play, Gorn defeats Muench to win the championship, on sheer endurance if nothing else. His band of supporters are jubilant and plans are hastily being made for a victory party. "Look, why don't you come up to my room after," says Friedman to one spectator. "I've got a game up there. We can play a few games, have a drink . . ." Friedman, a young businessman from New York, is at the tournament to drum up interest in the Professional Table Hockey Association tour he Continued Mm, IS. t74 - 13

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