by Keith Avallone, PLAAY Games
About the only thing better than playing tabletop hockey is playing tabletop hockey in Canada! I know it might sound like I'm over-stating things to say that this was a dream-come-true, but it really was. Here are some of the high points of this amazing, memorable PLAAY Games Live event,"Hockey Day in Canada," November 11, 2017...
The weekend started at the Courtyard Marriott Amherst in Buffalo, NY, where two of the Commissioner's Surprise Tournament "Sweet Sixteen" games were played. (If you're unfamiliar with Commissioner's Surprise tournament format, it works like this: we give every pro team a slot in this tournament, with each match-up drawn randomly. The two teams from the real-life championship series get first-round byes, in this case Pittsburgh and Nashville. You can review the early-round results in our tournament recap at the bottom of the page.)
Our USA contingent of gamers included myself, Art Campana, who flew in from Chicago, Gary Chrosniak, a native Buffalonian who's now based out of Nashville, and local guy George Peete. After a few minutes of getting caught up, we got down to business. You can read the summary of these games and, indeed, the entire tournament results, at the bottom of the page. Short version: Nashville managed to hold off a surprisingly feisty Colorado squad, while Philadelphia overcame an early deficit to rally past Tampa Bay.
Saturday morning we gathered at the hotel around 9:30 and piled into Gary's Jeep for a trip past Niagara Falls, across the Rainbow Bridge and on into Canada. Our destination was the heart of Hamilton's former textile district, which in recent years has become more of a cultural and arts district. That's where Mancala Monk Board Game Cafe is located, and we were warmly greeted by Matt the manager/owner. You can read more about Mancala Monk on their website, but let me say here that it's an awesome place to hang out, enjoy great food and drink, and play board games! A big thank-you to Matt and his crew for hosting us so graciously.
About noon, folks began arriving. The guest list read like a "Who's Who" in the Canadian tabletop sports game community! Frank Albidone, David Gambrill, Peter Miller, Michael Owens, Chris Robinson, Ron Arnst—these guys are true Heroes of the Hobby! Most of them I have known for nearly 20 years, and what an honor it was to get to meet them in person and enjoy an afternoon of doing what we love to do!
The guest list included a record 22 PLAAY Gamers, including myself: Frank Albidone, Ron Arnst, Chris Bowler, Art Campana, Gary Chrosniak, Greg Flynn, Gord Franklin, David Gambrill, George Kaldis, Peter Miller, Michael Owens, George Peete, Nelson Priz, Chris Robinson, Mark Russell, Dave Schneider, Pat and Gilles Senechal, Don Sprague, Mike Vacco and Bernie Wyatt. Dave Schneider and Don Sprague also brought their wives!
In short order, the hockey action began. Again, tournament results are posted below. The "Commissioner's Surprise" tournament is designed to be open-ended, unpredictable and "fly-by-the-seat-of-the pants" in nature. Usually there's a Cinderella team in the field somewhere, but this year's tournament featured all-favorites. So it was hard to identify any of the eight games as having upset potential. Probably Calgary's win over favored Pittsburgh was the closest to fitting that bill, along with the Flyers win over Tampa Bay the night before. All games were competitive, save perhaps for Columbus shutout loss to Montreal in which the Blue Jackets generated very little offense.
With the "Sweet Sixteen" round completed, we placed all the winning teams into Dave Schneider's hat (thanks, Dave!) and Frank drew the "Great Eight" match-ups at random. This round had a little bit of everything: offensive fireworks, grinding defense, a blowout and a nail-biter. Four teams advanced: Minnesota, NY Rangers, Nashville and Philadelphia!
Even though it was "Hockey Day in Canada," not everyone was there for hockey. So, while the "Great Eight" was going on, we switched sports at a couple of tables...
At one table, we got out the new COLD SNAP 4.0 game materials, and for about 30 minutes ran some sample scrimmages using various 1995 CFL teams, giving everyone who wanted to try the game out a chance to call some plays. Then we sat down to some full-game action...
Chris Robinson and Don Sprague squared off in a CFL retro-classic, with the 1968 Argos and Tiger Cats. Chris' Argos scored on a pair of short first quarter touchdown runs from RB Bill Symons to grab a 14-2 lead, but Don's home-town Ti-Cats, with QB Joe Zuger at the controls, made a game of it. Zuger was 13 of 25 for 251 yards, and a pair of TD passes. Tommy Joe Coffey's 41 yard scoring grab put Hamilton on top 19-14 at the half. But the fun was just beginning in this typically-wild "Labour Day Classic" (played on Remembrance Day!)...
Chris drove the Argos to the Hamilton five, where Don's defence stiffened. Chris called on the field goal unit, but a bad snap forced holder Tom Wilkinson to pull the ball away in the face of the Ti-Cats rush (they also blocked a punt and tipped another in this game). Wilkinson threw complete but out of bounds, so Don took over at his own five. On the next play, though, Zuger was picked off by Ed Learn who needed only a few steps to make it into the end zone! and the Argos were back on top 20-19 (Dave Mann missed the convert). The lead didn't last long, though, as the Ti-Cats Dewey Lincoln took the ensuing kickoff 96 yards to score! 26-20, Hamilton. A series later, Zuger fumbled deep in his own territory, the ball was kicked around and fought over, going backwards into the end zone, recovered by the Argos! Mann's convert made it 27-26. The Ti-Cats tied it on a single, but Wally Gabler's 22 yard TD pass to Mel Profit put the Argos back on top as the third period ended, 34-27.
The fourth quarter was a field position battle, both teams netting a field goal and a single, and the game ended with Don's last-gasp long pass falling incomplete, preserving Toronto's 38-31 win. Whew!
While Chris and Don went deep-retro, David Gambrill and I sat down to christen the 1995 CFL card set with a US-Canadian match-up, me taking the San Antonio Texans, David coaching his beloved Edmonton Eskimos. I've known David for many years, he has worked closely with me on the various CFL releases. But we'd never actually met! What a treat to be able to sit down and play a game! I had hoped it would be an epic match-up, and it truly was—WOW! The game began with the Texans' David Lucas taking the opening kickoff 84 yards, all the way to the Eskimos 6 yard line. First play from scrimmage, Mike Saunders punched into the end zone for a quick 7-0 Texans lead. We kicked off, and David opened the game with a trick play: RB Eric Blount sweeping wide and then lofting a wobby pass to a wide-open Sholon Baker! 80 yards later, it was 7-7! What a start! Archer was hot as the Texas sun in the first quarter, hitting 11 of his first 12 passes. He found Billy Hess for a 13 yard TD strike, and Roman Anderson later drilled a 44 yard field goal to extend the San Antonio lead to 17-7. But suddenly, Archer went cold and eventually the Eskimos offence found its mojo. With Kerwin Bell throwing the ball all over the field (31 of 45 passing, 451 yards), Edmonton scored 15 unanswered points to grab a 22-17 lead with about three minutes to play. That's when it got REALLY crazy!
On the Texans next series, facing second and long, Archer connected with Mark Stock over the middle for a big gain, but Stock fumbled the ball at the Edmonton 29! However, Texans slot receiver Joe Kralik scooped up the bouncing ball and dashed into the end zone for the score! Talk about wild. The two-point conversion failed, but San Antonio had a 23-22 lead with 2:10 to play! David's Eskimos weren't done. Bell connected with Baker, Mazzoli and Sandusky and just like that, Edmonton was in field goal range. David called a couple safe run plays, and sent in the field goal unit. Sean Fleming's 42-yarder with twenty seconds to go regained the lead for Edmonton, 25-23! Time for two plays: Archer back to pass—finds Kralik down the sideline, 39 yard gain to the Eskimo 36 yard line, well inside Anderson's range! But wait, there's a flag: holding, San Antonio. Dagger to the gut! The ball's marched back to the Texan 25. Eskimos stop the last-gasp Texan desperation heave as the clock expires, and come away with a 25-23 win.
Meanwhile, at another table, Mike Vacco, Bernie Wyatt, Ron Arnst, and Gord Franklin teed it up for some HMG on the not-yet-released Glen Abbey course. I had created "official" HMG cards for everyone who had RSVP'd for the event, not knowing who would play golf and who wouldn't. Similar to the cards I created for the Atlanta PLAAY Masters, every card was roughly equal in overall ability, but with varying proficiencies in specific golf skills. I wasn't able to follow this as I would have liked, but noted several outbursts from the table—I later learned these were missed gimme putts! I got the scoop on this round after the fact but if I'm remembering correctly, Mike wound up with a string of early birdies and then faded down the stretch with some missed clutch putts but still hung on to win the round by a couple strokes.
Back to hockey. Once again we grabbed Dave Schneider's hat and filled it with the four remaining teams: The Flyers once again got home ice through the luck of the draw, but also drew the toughest opponent, Nashville; New York got the other home game, hosting Minnesota. Again, you can read the results below, for this round and the championship game.
As the "Commissioner's Surprise" Tournament wound down, the Al-Time Franchise Great Teams mini-tournament began. We recruited six coaches, each choosing their favorite hockey club's All-Time Franchise Great Team: Peter Miller (Senators), Frank Albidone (Bruins), Nelson Priz (Maple Leafs), Mike Vacco (Red Wings), Art Campana (Blackhawks), and Gary Chrosniak (Sabres). We matched up Pete and Frank, Nelson and Mike, Gary and Art. Peter's Senators rallied from a 4-0 deficit to knock off Frank's Bruins in overtime, 5-4—wow! In fact, all three games went to overtime to determine the winner. Our original plan was to quick-play a fourth match-up to fill out an eight-team bracket. But time was running out (we had to be finished by 6PM), so Gaz showed off his production/organizational skills by quickly improvising a mini-game round-robin between the three winning teams: Ottawa, Detroit and Chicago. In the end, it came down to a shootout between the Wings and Blackhawks, with Detroit taking the ATFG title!
We had just enough time to award prizes, namely most of the "game used" equipment from the day's festivities. (I had hoped to do something similar to what we did at the end of the Vegas event, where we had a three-match jai-alai betting card! Alas, no time for that so we drew names out of a hat.) Mike Vacco won the golf game, Greg Flynn won the new version of Cold Snap, Peter Miller got the 2016-17 NHL cards and Mark Russell the All-Time-Franchise Great Teams collection.
We had planned to have dinner at Mancala Monk, but since we were running into overtime for our event, all their available tables were already booked for the 7:00 crowd. We weren't ready to say goodbye yet, though! So we improvised, and about ten of us headed over to a nearby Boston Pizza location. After having enjoyed Hockey DAY in Canada, it was only fitting that we got to watch Hockey NIGHT in Canada on BP's giant screen TVs! Fresh-baked pizza, live hockey with Bruins-Leafs and Sabres-Candiens, fun conversation, great people. I can't think of a more perfect way to end such a memorable day!
A huge "thank you" to everyone who attended, and especially to Matt and his crew at Mancala Monk. I'mlready thinking about possible cities for NEXT year's tournament!
The tournament began Thursday night, October 12th, see results below. Teams in bold advance to next round, person(s) who played game in [brackets]...