Smashfest Challenge returns to fund research for cancers, concussions

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STAMFORD, Conn. — Dominic Moore said he was “blown away” by the response to the return of the Smashfest Charity Ping-Pong Challenge, held at The Loading Dock on Monday after an eight-year run in Toronto ended in 2020 because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The 41-year-old retired NHL forward is the founder of the event, that with help from the NHL Players’ Association has funded research into rare cancers and concussions. A spokesperson said $125,000-$150,000 was raised for The Katie Moore Foundation and The Steve Moore Foundation, two years after Smashfest exceeded a total of $1 million raised since it began in 2012.

The support of NHL players, alumni and fans who traveled from across the tri-state area, Massachusetts and beyond filled the venue with a feeling of fellowship.

Among those attending were former NHL players Martin St. Louis and Mike Richter, along with defenseman Adam Fox and forward Chris Kreider of the New York Rangers, Boston Bruins defenseman Charlie McAvoy, Florida Panthers goalie Spencer Knight, Toronto Maple Leafs forward Alexander Kerfoot and unrestricted free agent forward Brian Boyle.

Moore said he was astonished by the turnout.

“It’s been two years since we were able to do something like this,” Moore said. “I think we have a whole new appreciation for how special it is just to simply get together, and that’s what Smashfest has always been about, bringing people together in a fun, but impactful way. We’re just thrilled that it’s all coming to reality tonight.”

Moore’s first wife, Katie, died Jan. 7, 2013 at age 32 after a nine months with a rare liver disease, one of a handful often underfunded with fewer treatment options. The prevention and treatment of concussions and similar head and neck injuries is the goal of an organization named after Dominic’s brother Steve Moore, whose hockey career was ended by a hit from then Vancouver Canucks forward Todd Bertuzzi on March 8, 2004 after playing three seasons for the Colorado Avalanche.

“Obviously the biggest impact we’re trying to make is with dollars for research,” Dominic Moore said. “But I think also the awareness that’s grown out of it in terms of the concussions and rare cancers is a big part of it, especially for those two causes which we feel like are underrepresented. Trying to generate some more awareness around those causes is really, really important. And so the way the event has grown again through the partnership with the NHLPA and the NHL has gotten more involved, it’s fantastic.”

Moore scored 282 points (106 goals, 176 assists) in 897 NHL games with 10 teams from 2003-18 and 29 points (12 goals, 17 assists) in 101 Stanley Cup Playoff games. He won the Masterton Trophy, awarded for perseverance and dedication to hockey, in 2014.

“Hopefully we can continue to do this,” he said of Smashfest. “We don’t take for granted the ability to simply do this event [after] what we’ve been through the past couple of years.”

Boyle is one counting his blessings. At age 33, he was diagnosed with chronic myeloid leukemia, a form of blood and bone marrow cancer treatable by medication, as a member of the New Jersey Devils on Sept. 19, 2017. He told NHL.com on Oct. 24, 2018 that he was in remission, beating an 18-month timeline projected by doctors. Boyle’s son, Declan, also dealt with an arteriovenous malformation of his jaw, a rare condition that impacts blood flow and oxygen circulation.

Boyle is an unrestricted free agent forward and said he’s training and “trying to play.” He scored three points (two goals, one assist) in 10 games at the 2021 IIHF World Championship to help the United States to a third-place finish, his first game action since playing for the Panthers in the 2020 Stanley Cup Qualifiers, a four-game loss to the New York Islanders. His wife Lauren is pregnant with the couple’s third child, but he drove from Boston after Moore faxed him a last-minute invite, the experience striking an emotional chord.

“This is a mental aspect of the fight against cancer, in any fight really,” Boyle said. “You can achieve more than you think you can. You can prove some people wrong.”

Boyle has scored 231 points (130 goals, 101 assists) in 805 NHL games with seven teams and 31 points (16 goals, 15 assists) in 118 playoff games. 

“I just set goals,” he said. “Those are important things. When athletes can do something that changed somebody’s life even for a day, for an hour, I think that’s part of the responsibility of being an athlete, I really do. People come out and cheer for you and we don’t know who they are, and they know that. They just love the game. They love their sport. If you’re on their team, you’re one of theirs. I felt that everywhere I played.”

Moore had to think outside the box in 2020 by going virtual, creating a series of 30-minute episodes called “Unveiled: By Smashfest” and raffling off artistic Ping-Pong tables that revealed player personalities and depicted what’s important to them. Less than one year later, Moore was back having fun with fans and friends. Among them was Kreider, a teammate with the 2013-14 Eastern Conference champion New York Rangers. Moore scored the lone goal in a 1-0 win against the Montreal Canadiens in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Final, the primary assist coming from Boyle. That goal sent New York to the Stanley Cup Final, where it lost in five games to the Los Angeles Kings.

Next month, Kreider returns to the Rangers for training camp. At Smashfest, the synergy forged an overwhelming sense of goodwill he said got lost over two COVID-19 affected NHL seasons. 

“This is an unbelievable event, an unbelievable cause, and it feels like there’s some element of normalcy,” Kreider said. “We really weren’t able to do nearly as much as we would have liked last year, whether it be through Garden of Dreams (a non-profit organization that works with MSG Entertainment and MSG Sports) …we were doing stuff virtually but it’s not really the same.

“This is important. This is probably the most important thing that we do, and you can tell by the turnout.”

Photos: DeCarlo photo

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