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Stars' Eaves wins Smashfest charity table tennis title

by Chris Stevenson

TORONTO -- When he was 7 years old, Dallas Stars forward Patrick Eaves broke his back playing in the yard.

Around that time, his father, former NHL forward Mike Eaves, bought a table tennis machine for the basement. It helped with Patrick's recovery.

"I just learned by myself in the basement with the machine," Patrick said. "It's kind of a weird story, a funky story."

Eaves' considerable table tennis skills were on display Thursday when he won the title at Smashfest IV, a charity event organized by New York Rangers forward Dominic Moore. The event featured about 30 NHL players who played in a pro-am format and then squared off against each other for the Smashfest championship.

Winning the event and the bragging rights that go with it is a big deal among the players. Table tennis has become a daily activity in dressing rooms around the League.

"We've had a table in Vancouver for a number of years now," said Canucks forward Alexandre Burrows, adding that forwards Daniel Sedin and Henrik Sedin are among the most avid players on the team.

"I don't know if it's the Euros' influence, but I know in our locker room, the twins are always on the table practicing and playing. Back in the day we had Mikael Samuelsson, who was a great player too. It's just a good warmup prior to practice. Guys like to joke around and have fun."

Moore said, "A lot of people don't know there's a pingpong table in every locker room in the League. I had the idea to come up with an event and thought it would be kind of the perfect. It's social, it's fun, and it brings out personalities. Hockey players don't necessarily get a chance to bring out their personality that often, and I think that's why it's been so well-received."

Moore created the charity event and has directed the funds to cancer research after his wife, Katie, died from a rare form of liver cancer in 2013. The money raised at Smashfest will help fund a collaborative study of rare cancers involving the University of California in San Francisco and the Princess Margaret Hospital in Toronto.

"It costs money to collaborate and this is seed money that will give us the ability to do that," Dr. Alan Venook of the UCSF Helen Diller Family Comprehensive Cancer Center said. "We would like to have four or five centers and explain these rare cancers. If you can analyze 20 cases rather than two, you can learn a lot."

The first three editions of Smashfest raised $270,000, including $140,000 last year.

Eaves defeated Stephane Veilleux, who played last season with the Minnesota Wild and was the defending champion, in a fiercely contested final that was cheered by hundreds of spectators. Eaves defeated Burrows, and Veilleux defeated Moore in the semifinals.

"That's what's great about us. We're all so competitive. It doesn't matter what we do," Eaves said. "Once you get in it, you're in it. You want that. You want to be competitive with someone else. It's fun. It doesn't matter what you do. This group of guys, we're all in the NHL for a reason and that's because we're competitive. We brought it here tonight and it was for a great cause."

Eaves said his father and his brother, Ben, are about as good as he is and they had some great battles growing up. Ben is a lefty, and Mike uses a pen-hold grip.

"When I came here tonight, I had kind of seen it all already," Eaves said.

He said the best table tennis player he's seen in the NHL was Daniel Alfredsson, a former teammate with the Ottawa Senators.

He was humble after his victory and downplayed the title of NHL table tennis champion.

"For tonight, anyway," Eaves said. "[Alfredsson] and I really battled it out in Ottawa and he's probably the best I've ever played. I think I learned a lot from him."

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