Saturday, December 10, 2016 a dozen PLAAY Gamers—about half from the Las Vegas area, half from out of town—gathered at "Meepleville," a new board game cafe in Las Vegas, located on the northeast corner of Sahara and Decatur, not far from the heart of downtown— to, among other things, crown the 2016 Commissioner's Surprise HOCKEY BLAST Champion. What a day! I'm going to totally ignore the axiom that "What happens in Vegas, STAYS in Vegas," and spill all the details...
First, thanks to the folks who met around the tabletops at Meeplville it was another awesome group of gamers! Vegas-area gamers included Joshua Gottesman, Eldon Cerveny, Gary Chrosniak and Nick Costopolous. Coming in from out of town were Al Wilson, Keith Curtis, Glenn Mercer, Dan Rudolph, Ed Meek, Erik Holdaway, and Grant Fines. As many have commented to me after having watched the live Facebook feeds from the event, this group of guys was special. Great people, great fun!
I have to say that the Vegas "Great Eight" was probably the most intense afternoon of hockey I've ever experienced, tabletop or otherwise. I know that sounds a little "hyped," but I'm completely serious, and I think everyone who was there would agree. There were seven games on the schedule: four quarter-final games, two semi-final games, and the championship game. Of those seven games, SIX were decided in overtime! Amazing.
You can read the game summaries below, but it's worth noting that Nashville opened the tournament with a come-from-behind 5-4 overtime win over Florida in the first round, an exciting game that was streamed live on AFR back in November. We didn't know then that this would be a recurring pattern for the Preds the entire tournament! In the second round, they again came from behind to defeat Ottawa with a goal in the final minutes. In the quarter-finals, They knocked off Boston in overtime 3-2. They advanced to the championship game with an overtime win over San Jose, again 3-2. Then in the championship game vs. Washington, down 3-1 with seven minutes to play, Nashville scored twice to again send the game to overtime, with Jarnkrok's goal near the end of the first OT period giving Nashville the crown. Memorable, incredible. A special congrats to part-time Nashville resident Gary Chrosniak, who coached the Preds to all three Vegas wins: well done, Gaz! Well done, everyone!
The Vegas gathering also included SECOND SEASON Pro football on the schedule, and once Gaz had been thoroughly congratulated for his work in guiding Nashville to the hockey crown, we switched gears to football...
With Las Vegas beckoning the NFL Raiders, we thought it would be fun to hold a "throwback" game here, so we headed back to 1973 for a classic Rams/Raiders tilt. Glenn Mercer coached the Raiders, Erik Holdaway the Rams. It looked like an L.A. runaway when Erik's Rams jumped to a 14-0 lead, but Glenn didn't panic. Instead, he focused on taking away the powerful Ram running game, forcing L.A. to the air. Typically, that wouldn't necessarily be a good thing, as QB John Hadl had a stellar season throwing the football in '73. But the Oakland defense is loaded with stars and with Hadl suffering through an off-day, Glenn's strategy worked to perfection. Two Hadl interceptions were real killers, and Oakland stormed back with 27 unanswered points in a 27-17 Raider win. Along with the Oakland defense, RB Charlie Davis had an efficiently-MVP afternoon, with seven rushes for 80 yards including touchdown runs of 22 and 30 yards.
The other half of our "Football in Vegas" doubleheader was also a throwback game, but to a different brand of football: Keith Curtis and I brought back to life NBC and the WWE's ill-fated football experiment, the XFL! I guided the hometown Las Vegas Outlaws, Keith took the reins of the Memphis Maniaxx. Playing this game really captured the essence of the XFL—it was a highly entertaining game, in sort of a macabre "gallows humor" way: plenty of missed tackles, dropped passes, blown assignments. With a dearth of talent on both squads, it came down to which team would play least-awfully. Las Vegas grabbed a 10-6 lead late in the first half on Yo Murphy's 7-yard touchdown pass from Ryan Clement, a score that was set up when Memphis' Kevin Prentiss muffed a punt return at his own 31 yard line. The Maniaxx regained a 13-10 lead in the third period on Rashan Salaam's short touchdown run and one-point conversion. Then came the turning point of the game. I had the Outlaws offense moving the ball and nearing midfield, when suddenly Memphis DE Shante Carver sacked Clements and jarred the ball loose. DT Anthony Rubio recovered for Memphis at the Las Vegas 33. Six plays later, the Maniaxx were in the end zone again, QB Jim Druckenmiller finding Darryl Hobbs for the touchdown. Salaam's second conversion made it 20-10. A scoreless final period, and that's the way it ended, a 20-10 Memphis win. For Druckenmiller, it was a tale of two halves: 1-for-11 passing in the first half for 6 yards, 6-of-7 for 68 yards in the second half. Las Vegas' "Dealers of Doom" defense actually played pretty well, limiting the Maniaxx to just 159 yards of total offense, while the XFL's marquee player "He Hate Me" Rod Smart had a decent day for the Outlaws with 54 yards rushing and three receptions for another 19 yards. But alas—a Las Vegas win was not in the cards today.
Concurrently with the hockey and football action, Al Wilson conducted a golf demo and tournament with HISTORY MAKER GOLF Championship Golf Game. The Vegas tournament played with the Stars of the 2000's at the Championship Course at Augusta, GA wound up with Chris DiMarco shooting a final round 71 to finish 2 strokes ahead of Shigeki Maruyama for the Championship. DiMarco led the final round wire to wire, as the challengers missed too many putts to make a run at the lead.
We concluded the event, fittingly, with a brief, three-match jai-alai program using the un-released PLAAY Jai-Alai game. After explaining the game and running a sample match, everyone was given ten bucks in PLAAY money to wager, with all winnings spendable in the PLAAY Games online store! Dan and Grant each wound up winning $40! Erik and Keith basically broke even. Everyone else, well—busted. But hey,that's Vegas, right?
After the games were done, we headed over to the iconic Blue Ox Tavern for a Minnesota-themed menu and more sports game talk. Among the topics of discussion, pros/cons of various basketball games, Australian Rules football, cricket, the potential for sports game popularity among millennials and more.
A big thank you to everyone who attended, and an especially loud shout-out of thanks to Timm and his crew at Meepleville for hosting us so graciously and making us feel right at home. We've been so fortunate to have great game stores like Meepleville get behind our events, and most of the credit for that goes to game store owners like Timm.
Let me wrap up here with a quick plug for the 2016-17 Commissioner's Surprise HOCKEY BLAST Tournament, which will be held in Toronto, Ontario, Canada sometime in early November, 2017. This will be our first Canadian PLAAY Games event, and I'm already looking forward to it.
The tournament began Monday night, October 17th live on AFR, with Florida traveling to Nashville. Prior to dropping the puck, we began the random draw for the remainder of the first-round tournament schedule, with AFR host Steve Tower drawing team logo cards out of a hockey hat! Here's the full first round schedule, if you'd like to volunteer to play one of the scheduled games as part of the official tournament, we'd love that! Just let us know, the e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org. We'll update this page as games are played, teams in bold advance to next round, person(s) who played game in [brackets]...
• Florida 4, at Nashville 5 (OT), Nashville comes back from 2-0 first period deficit [Steve Tower].
• Boston 5, at Arizona 2, Bruins score four goals in first period, coast to easy road win over Coyotes [Steve Tower].
• Winnipeg 4, at Colorado (OT), Jets score breakaway goal in game's first minute, Myers goal in OT wins it for the Jets [Keith Avallone].
• Los Angeles 3, at New York Rangers 4, Rangers give up tying goal late, then bounce back to win in OT [Steve Tower].
• St. Louis 3, at New Jersey 0, Two early St. Louis goals (Pietrangelo and Backes), and great goaltending both sides rest of the game Keith Avallone/Steve Heller].
• Ottawa 8, at Calgary 2, Karlsson with goal, three assists to spark Sens to biggest rout of first round [Keith Avallone/Steve Heller].
• Chicago 0, at Buffalo 3, Another in a series of first-round upsets, stellar goaltending from Johnson advances Buffalo to delight of home fans [Giorgio Salvadego].
• New York Islanders 4, at Minnesota 1, Isles nursing 2-1 lead late, Taveras dishes to Nelson, he scores! Empty-netter by Kulemin seals it [Keith Avallone].
• Dallas 1, at Philadelphia 6, Stars were out-hit, out-hustled and completely out-played in blowout road loss [Keith Avallone].
• Washington 2, at Montreal 1, 19th minute, Habs pull goalie and score; seconds left, MTL gets last-ditch shot—saved by Holtby! [Dan Rudolph]
• Vancouver 4, at Toronto 1, Tied 1-1, Vancouver short-handed goal at 5:00 of third period triggered late surge [Mike Lemick/Mike Zett].
• Columbus 3, at Anaheim 2, OT, Stunner! Outplayed Ducks get late goal to send to OT, but Jackets seal upset with sudden-death goal from Saad! WOW! [Steve Heller/Mike Zett]
• Carolina 4, at Detroit 0, Biggest upset of the first round, 'Canes clinging to 1-0 lead midway through final period, then Detroit (Smith) major penalty and pair of PP goals. Carolina goalie Cam Ward turns away 31 shots! [Mike Lemick/Keith Avallone]
• Edmonton 2 at Tampa Bay 5, Oilers led 2-1 with 11 minutes left in game, but imploded with late penalties and Lightning PP goals [Steve Heller/Keith Avallone].
• Vancouver at Boston, This game to be streamed LIVE on AFR 12/5, 830p EST.
• Pittsburgh 5 at Philadelphia 1, Pens get two goals and two assists from Chris Kunitz to fly past Philly. [Dan Rudolph]
• San Jose 2 at Tampa Bay 1 (OT), Sharks have two Pavelski goals reviewed: his first period goal was reversed, but OT game-winner stands! [Keith Avallone]
• New York Rangers 3 at St. Louis 5, This game was streamed LIVE on AFR 11/28, 830p EST.
• Ottawa 3 at Nashville 4, A comeback win for the Preds, Jarnkrok with the GWG at 18:10 of the third period. [Giorgio Salvadego]
• Carolina 4 at Columbus 3 (OT), Jackets sent the game to OT with a goal in the final minute, but Nash netted the game-winner for Carolina at the 16 minute mark of OT, sending the 'Canes to the Vegas Great Eight! [Giorgio Salvadego]
• Buffalo 0 at Washington 3, Caps outshot Sabres 38-22 and Holtby delivered the shutout. [Dan Rudolph]
• New York Isanders 4 at Winnipeg 1, Second period PP goals from Tavares, Hamonic propel Isles to easy road win. [Giorgio Salvadego]
• Washington 3, at Carolina 2 (OT), Down 2-0 with less then ten minutes to play, Skinner scores in 12th minute and again with seconds remaining to send game to OT. Caps win it with goal from Burakowski in 7th OT minute. [Keith Curtis, Erik Holdaway]
• Boston 2, at Nashville 3 (OT), Scoreless through two periods, Nashville strikes twice in four minute span of third period but Boston gets on the board moments later and sends game to OT with Marchand goal in final minute. Salomaki goal in OT sends Preds to next round. [Ed Meek, Gary Chrosniak]
• NY Islanders 0, at Pittsburgh 2, Kessel goal at 5:00 of first period and then it settled into battle of goalies. Hornqvist insurance goal at 5:00 of third period. [Grant Fines, Keith Curtis]
• St. Louis 2, at San Jose 3 (OT), Sharks outlast Blues, who rallied from two goals down to send game to OT. Couture nets the game-winner near the end of first OT. [Grant Fines, Dan Rudolph]
• Pittsburgh 4, at Washington 5 (OT), A wild game, with multiple Pens comebacks. Daley's goal at 18:00 of third period sends it to OT, but Ovechkin's hat trick goal wins it for Washington in 16th minute.[Keith Avallone, Erik Holdaway]
• San Jose 2, at Nashville 3 (OT), Yet another unlikely win for the Predators: a short-handed goal from Forsberg in OT wins it! [Dan Rudolph, Gary Chrosniak]
• Washington 3, at Nashville 4 (OT), Caps leading 3-1 and seemingly in control, but goalie Holtby knocked out by big hit and Nashville takes advantage scoring twice in final three minutes against backup goalie Grubauer to send game to OT. Jarnkrok's goal in the eighth OT minute makes Nashville the Commissioner's Champion! [Grant Fines, Gary Chrosniak]
Here's how the "Commissioner's Surprise" Hockey Tournament is set up. The two championship series teams (for 2015-16, that would be Pittsburgh and San Jose) are given a first-round bye, and the other 28 team names are tossed into a hat—literally. Names are then drawn out one at a time, and the first round bracket is filled slot by slot. Any team could be matched up against any other team, home or away, hence the name "Commissioner's Surprise." It's a single-game "win to stay in" format. Win and you advance, lose and you're out. The two championship series teams are then grouped with the fourteen first-round winners, all sixteen team names are again tossed into a hat and re-drawn in the same fashion as the first round. This continues until there are just two teams left, the winner is declared the tournament champion.