Nerd Culture

Published on September 2nd, 2016 | by Brendan Thompson

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Table hockey: at the intersection of nerd culture and sports

I must admit that I am constantly confused as to where the line between sport and nerdom lies. In my mind there are obvious delights associated with an online Pokémon battle-simulator or an episode of the original Star Trek. That said, I wore my Sidney Crosby jersey to the bar in June to watch the Penguins win the Stanley Cup. Those aren’t just different sides of the same coin, they’re different coins entirely. But what happens when we get into things like the NHL version of Monopoly? Is that a sport thing or is that a nerd thing?

The same questions can be asked of fantasy sports. There are enough sports nerds out there using spreadsheets to predict the next season’s stats that it can’t just be about sports, right? What about competitive gaming? Is filling a stadium with fans to watch a championship only a sports concept? Not anymore. The lines between what constitutes a sport versus nerdom are constantly becoming more and more blurry. Case in point, table hockey.

Image courtesy of hockeygods.com

I had the pleasure of joining the Edmonton Table Hockey League last year and I’m gearing up for a second season to start in October. It’s not the kind of thing that the high school jocks went out for, but it’s not exactly the chess club either. It’s somewhere in the no-man’s land between sports and tabletop games.

The fantasy aspect to table hockey is very much part of it. Players can be custom painted to resemble historic teams or fantasy ones. The tables can be customized to look like your favourite arena or one that you’ve simply dreamed up. Just google “custom table hockey game.” The first image that comes up is from a 24 Hours – Vancouver article about a man with a Star Wars themed game, completed with Yoda and Darth Vader as the goaltenders. That’s just the first of many detailed and complex creations you’ll see as you scroll down. Reggie Stefaniszyn, the organizer of the Edmonton Table Hockey League, told me one member painted his team in the sweaters of the classic Montreal Canadiens, complete with the historical numbers on the back.

Image courtesy of vancouver.24hrs.ca

When it comes to actually playing the game, however, it’s a different story. I was able to chat with Reggie a bit about the competitive nature of the game. I mentioned that it was physically demanding. When I play I do get tired and my reflexes have to be firing as quick as possible. Reggie immediately brought up another point.

“It’s mentally tiring as well…a lot of concentration.”

He’s not wrong. On September 17 is the Edmonton Table Hockey Centennial, which is a full day of table hockey for league players and players from as far away as Ontario, the United States, and Denmark. Some of the best table hockey players in the world will be there. Reggie mentioned that any time you’re playing someone who’s a bit better than you, you’ll need all the concentration you can muster. In table hockey, once the other team has the puck, you can’t exactly pursue it as your players are on sticks. That means a great deal of your strategy on defense is to keep your players in exactly the right positions and move them at the right speed at the right time. All of those are dependent on what your opponent does. Lose focus and the tiny plastic puck is in your tiny plastic net tray.

Image courtesy of torontoist.com

The International Table Hockey Federation (yes, that exists) currently ranks Reggie as second in Canada. He’s been in first place before, but the economic downturn has made it difficult to travel to the larger tournaments in Europe. It’s there that you can earn more points by playing tougher opponents.

“In Russia it’s actually considered a sport,” Reggie told me.

When he played in a tournament there, he was required to get a Sports Visa in order to enter the country.

“They have coaches over there, they have big prize money,” he added.

Who knew?

That’s the intrigue of table hockey. You can get a table and play it casually, you can create and paint your own team and rink, or you can join Edmonton’s league and find yourself in the international rankings with players from Sweden, Latvia, Russia and around the world. The ETHL is set up with two divisions, an upper and a lower one. Depending on how well you do one week, you might move up or down. I like to think of myself as a strong anchor in the B Division. If joining a league isn’t for you, but you’d like a day of table hockey, the Edmonton Centennial Challenge Cup will be played at West Edmonton Mall on Saturday, September 17. You can find information on both events at ethl.ca.

Cover image courtesy of tsthl.ca.

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