(By Steve Hopkins, photo is of Center Patrice Bergeron and Left Wing Brad Marchand)
It’s no surprise to any of the table tennis audience for this post that our sport doesn’t make headlines in the US. Because of this, I like to find table tennis angles to most of the big sporting events. And at this time, I’m announcing my TT-focused pick for the NHL’s 2019 Stanley Cup Final.
I’ve previously tried this twice, and I think my results (50%) are as good as most Las Vegas oddsmakers. I was successful when I chose Clemson University over Auburn University for the NCAA football champion. In that instance, Clemson had several more tables in their player lounge and they were a focal point. I was not successful when I picked the Rams to beat the Patriots in the Superbowl. In my defense, there were articles showing a strong presence of our sport in both locker rooms (and the game was tied entering the fourth quarter). Still, no system is perfect.
Fans have some strange ways of picking winners in important games across all sports. Some cheer with their heart, having followed a team and developed an attachment over the course of a season. Others pull for underdogs or favorites and rely upon the experts and the betting lines and the resulting buzz. 2018 world cup soccer fans used an octopus from Germany, a camel in Dubai, and a pig in England to make choices for them. Many rely on commentators or Las Vegas to pick the winners for us (currently the Vegas odds are solidly in the Bruin’s favor). I’m not suggesting that this pick has more science behind it than the experts in Las Vegas or the cuteness factor associated with selections by an animal.
Just for fun, this pick is based upon closer to my heart – the extent to which the teams and the players enjoy or support table tennis.
Unlike the NCAA analysis where both the Alabama and Clemson teams had player lounge tables, and unlike the Superbowl analysis where recent articles and video showed key players on both sides enjoying the sport – the hockey analysis is easier. There were very few articles in search results for table tennis and the St. Louis Blues. There are articles about Brian Elliott playing table tennis regularly, but he left the Blues two seasons ago and is now with the Flyers. And the most recent article listing both the Blues and table tennis is about their opponent in the last round, San Jose Sharks players, using our sport to relax before games but did not mention the Blues playing. And my final piece of evidence is a quote from former St. Louis Blues coach Ken Hitchcock who in complaining that the quality of hockey style has degraded and compared it to a change from “tennis to ping pong” – a comparison that was not well received by this writer.
The Boston Bruins, on the other hand, have a customized table in the players’ lounge at their facility. Players describe the competitions as fierce, though it is clear they are using the sport to build camaraderie and to relax. But the factor that raises the Bruins above all competitors is their annual charity table tennis event Pucks & Paddles. In 2019, that event included both Butterfly and Rhode Island Table Tennis as sponsors. The event included 20 Bruins team members in the competition, and the event raised $119,000 for Boston’s Floating Hospital for Children at Tufts and the Bruins Foundation.
I can’t speak to exactly how the team uses its table or what the team does in their spare time. But I do know that the Bruins have made table tennis available to their team and that the whole team showed off their skills in supporting the table tennis themed fundraiser a few months ago. It is clear that the Bruins have spent more time visibly enjoying and supporting the sport of table tennis – and that is good enough for me.
I am picking Boston to win the Stanley Cup. Go Bruins.