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Meet the Northwest Chicago Table Hockey League

December 12, 2015

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(The Northwest Chicago THL group photo from the May 2015 gathering. Photo courtesy Don Klimek, who is in the center in the white T-shirt.)

A feature where we’ll spotlight a different table hockey league each issue. Questions were posed to NW Chicago THL founder Don Klimek.

Northwest Chicago Table Hockey League

Founded: Our first event was held March 8, 2014 after almost a year of planning and preparation.

Administrators: Don Klimek and Eric Krol have a joint partnership each handling different components of the operation. I also organize, analyze, and report the “B” and “C” (intermediate/beginner) class players that I keep separate data for, which is a mission objective for the group.

Origins: I had run a Munro league when I was in grammar school and assisted with school tournaments then. It was quite different but very popular. I wanted to try again following my first USTHA event at the 2012 US Open in Lemont.  There, the wonderful people and organizers helped me so much to start the league. The list of support is so long.

Where do you play?  We play at the Salt Creek Park District Twin Lake Golf Course Clubhouse in Palatine, IL. Palatine is about 30-45 minutes northwest of downtown Chicago. We have use of large rooms and the facility. The lightning and staff are especially excellent.

Format for league play: We follow the USTHA rules and are sanctioned by the organization. We conform to the event and game table requirements. Typically, we’ll play a double or triple round robin over three hours, depending on the number of players. If we get enough rookies, we put them in a separate group and have one cross-over round. We start at 7 p.m. and try to finish by 10 p.m.

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(League play.)

Recent history/news: The league was conceived to help grow the sport, and train and improve the intermediate and beginners classes with a regular series of game play. This is also used as a practice to prepare us all for the USTHA events.

We have pushed to recruit new members, and there are plans for 2016 to widen our marketing, especially since we are across the street from ice rinks that are associated with the Chicago Blackhawks. I coached at these rinks and several of our members played ice hockey with the Chargers, the local program.

The first league night started with Buster Barton’s promotion from “B” to the “A” class. His performance since in these and other USTHA events has proven that correct.

Advice for would-be organizers? A good place to play is key to the league, along with a core group of experienced players. I searched  many locations of widely varying limitations and got lucky here.

Build a core group and go from there.  As in marketing in real life it takes a long time to build and patience must be strong. And if lucky, have such wonderful help from the USTHA and the regular “A” players who I can always count on.

What’s next for the NW Chicago THL? Continue to increase the number of new players. We have had 25 different people join us for at least one time so far.  Unfortunately some play only once as they see how far they have to go. This is one of the keys to our mission, to not have the new players become so intimidated that they give up.

We sometimes setup an event with the all the beginner’s in one separate group where they play each other. One or two each round are scheduled to
come to the other tables for inter-conference play. So while they mostly
play each other, they do rotate through the “A” and “B” players to gain that learning experience.

Those that appeared only once played on days when not enough new people showed up to easily allow a beginner-only group. So separation is key.

Contact:  E-mail: ControlsC@aol.com or visit us on our Facebook page.

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(Setting up the games.)

 

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A closer look at how positioning your feet, hands and body impacts the game

December 12, 2015

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(Reggie Stefaniszyn is known for his good positioning. Eric Davis uses a stool. Photo by Eric Krol at 2014 Stiga U.S. Open.)

By Stephen Klump, CTHA member

When we get together, conversation among table hockey players often turns to ranking systems, federation politics, tournament scheduling or league format. On that kind of thing, I always say it’s best to stick to what happens on the table. Win the games in front of you and the rest takes care of itself.

But there are a few areas off the ice that are worthy of any player’s attention. From easiest to hardest, these are: your feet, your opponent’s wrists (and body), and your own wrists (and body).

YOUR FEET

On attack, you might find that your bread and butter shots are all going wide to the same side, or that your RW-C low pick passes are sailing harmlessly through the crease just out of reach for the C tip. Adjusting the timing isn’t helping, and neither is changing the stick angle on the shot. Trying to work more spin on the pass in-game without some practice time usually turns into a giveaway factory — take it from me — by way of embarrassing wild pucks.

On defence, it may seem like you are getting twisted up when your opponent goes low LW-C or RW-C, exploiting a seam that has somehow opened up where you have become slightly off-balance.

Question: where are your feet? If you’re like me having this experience, one foot is way ahead of the other. If all your shots are wide left, your right foot is too far forward. If your RW-C low pick pass tracks too low through the crease, your left foot is too far forward. If you can’t seem to close a defensive hole down low on one side, that foot is too far forward.

The position of your feet on the ground drives the angle of your hips and torso. If they are too far off square from the game, your shoulders are going to have the same bias, and it will translate as a rotation of your whole plan on the ice. Your dominant foot can creep up on you as you correct for your back pain or your nerves, or maybe you use a hip to nudge a rod and forget to put your foot back into place. Try squaring them up to face the table for the next sequence and see what happens to your aim. You didn’t just forget how to play the game — you might be delighted how easy the fix was.

YOUR OPPONENT’S WRISTS (AND BODY)

On defence, blocking the pass is key to disrupting your opponent’s attack. Good players will usually have a few options for the next pass, but the most likely one is to the player without the puck whose rod they are holding. You can read this out of your peripheral vision without taking your eyes off the game, even over the top of your glasses if you wear them. If your opponent realizes you are reading his wrists, he may feint with one figure and pass to another when he sees your own wrists move, so keep this check to your peripheral vision close and try not to give it away with head movements.

On attack, a figure in the right place defensively but without any pressure on it can readily be blown through with a bit of speed on the pass (just avoid the pin). It is generally safe to pass through a such a passive defence: again, check with your peripheral vision for your opponent’s wrists, identify the hole and put the puck through. Over half the Stiga ice is uncontested space, so you don’t have to make a complete pass: the right amount of weight on a clear (where your opponent is not guarding) can put it safely into a stronger position for a higher-percentage attack.

Some players use a hip or other body part to put pressure on rods on defence (see below). It is obviously more error-prone to try to overpower an active defender than a passive one, but dumb pressure on the rod falls somewhere between, since it is a static defence (it cannot spin or easily move). Prefer passing around a static defender to powering through it. Your opponent will have to move his wrists to activate this defence, which gives you a split second to surprise.

YOUR WRISTS (AND BODY)

On defence, there is not much you can do about your wrists telling where you are defending the pass, but you can stay agile and change when your opponent does.

Defending against a velodrome pass (winger to winger around the boards), you can use a hip to brace the LD all the way back, leaving your hands free to work the RD and G. Against a clear from your opponent’s defence to a forward, you can use your right back-of-the-hand/wrist/forearm to press down on the RD and RW (once they are in position) while holding the C, creating a static wall. You can use your hand across the LW and LD if your opponent’s bank shot is weak, though this approach leaves the G passive. Note that in creating a static defence, too much pressure on a rod bends it, especially on the LD against the back boards (Editor’s note: Yes, this is true, we highly recommend you know what you’re doing here; otherwise a whole bunch of LD rods will get bent).

On attack, the LD, C, and RD have options right or left. By practicing passes, clears, and shots with either hand, you make it harder for your opponent to guess where you are going from your wrists. For example, the LD-C combination is not generally feasible if your right hand is on the LD (although a few freaks can cross their hands over). But if you can perform the LD-LW clear with your left hand as deftly as with your right, your opponent has to outguess you to block either pass. Similarly, the RD has far more options if you can clear the puck with either hand — sending it to a wing or drifting it through the middle for a C fintar (deke) setup. You will see some Europeans mask their shooting hand on C (fintar) dekes with their other hand, to avoid showing a tell. Alternatively, practise C moves with both hands. Also, confidence with either hand on the C will allow real-time advantage if the puck falls well in the moment.

If you suspect that your opponent is tracking your wrists, you can touch one player and then come back to another to complete the pass as his hands move. Remember also that there are four open skaters, not just two. Stiga is a short table — you can score from anywhere. If your opponent is concerned only with a winger and the C, your D can represent third and fourth one-timer options.

Finally, putting a legitimate three-hander in your bag of tricks can help defeat a defence that relies on tracking wrist position. As you release a pass with one hand to an empty bonhomme, switch the other hand to it, pick up the pass and move it in one fluid motion — either a shot or a pass to another figure you’ve also picked up at the same time. For example, from hands on LW and C, pass LW-RW while picking up C and RW, then do it again in reverse). It takes practice to gauge how fast you can make the pass and still not lose control. Once you have a base line, get comfortable with the motion and try not to let the puck stop. At first, don’t worry about the speed. The more you practice, the faster you will get.

SPORTSMANSHIP

Perhaps the most important off-ice consideration is in your own brain. Try to remember to have fun and to enjoy the process of learning and sharing company with the few like-minded and ridiculously skilled people who call themselves table hockey players. Game on!

Feature story: How To Improve at Fintars (Center Shots)

December 11, 2015

 

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By Eric Krol
Editor, “The Score”

Perhaps the single biggest way to improve your offense (and chances of winning) a game is to get better at taking center shots. Reggie Stefaniszyn of Edmonton rose to the top of the North American Stiga table hockey scene by focusing on them. In the table hockey world, these shots are called fintars, which translated from Swedish means “feints.” Which is a good way to look at them — you’re trying to fake out the opposing goalie and put one past him. A little trickeration helps.

“The tactic with the center tricks is to simply move the puck out sideways and shoot in one motion. Fast enough that the opponent can not keep up,” noted Sissie Wikstrom, a Swedish player who’s ranked 15th in the ladies division and 313th overall in the world.

To that end, we took a look at the available resources online and asked a couple of skilled European Stiga players for some pointers. At the very top level of Stiga table hockey, games can sometimes turn into fintar fests, with each player putting a premium on possession and the ability to convert the fintar when the opportunity presents itself. Even if you never travel to Europe to play, knowing how to nail a fintar will make you that much more dangerous of a player, and perhaps open up other offensive plays as your opponent adjusts his defense to try to stop the fintar (and the pass that leads to the fintar attempt).

While there’s no substitute for trying them out in a game with a live opponent across from you, you can also practice by yourself in the basement. Get a bunch of Stiga pucks and place them in your end of the rink. Let’s say 20, but if you only have one puck, or five pucks, that works too.

It’s important to practice the pass to the center as well as the shot. So start by practicing the pass from the RW to the C or the LW to the C. It’s good to be able to do both. The RW-C pass is probably the easiest. If you’re playing against someone who is using the box defense, the RW-C pass will probably be unchallenged.

“It is important because the fintars are also tactical moves,” said Bjarne Axelsen, a top-ranked player from Denmark who has won numerous North American tournaments. “You need to use them against specific defenses, for example the box defense. Using the fintars can open up this defense.”

Don’t even try the Center shot yet, just practice the pass. Karl Jonsson of Sweden, who won this year’s Stiga North American Championships tournament in Detroit and was runner-up in Toronto, said he and his brother Nils sometimes make a game of it.

“One player puts the puck on one of the wings. He tries to pass to the center and gets one point for an accurate pass (e.g., that would make it possible to make a “center fint”),” Jonsson said. “Do not shoot on goal — this exercise is only about making and defending the pass to the center. The defending player gets one point for intercepting a pass.

Once you have a good feel for the RW-C (or LW-C) pass, set the puck up and practice taking the various types of fintars.

Axelsen and Jonsson agreed that he two best fintars to start with are the Lillstövel and the Nacka. “You do not need to rotate the figure around itself so these are good fintars to begin with,” Axelsen explained.

So what the heck are these odd-sounding shots, anyway?

Notes Jonsson: “The Nacka means holding the stick to the right, moving the puck with the foot and shoot with the stick in the right corner. The Lillstövel means holding the stick to the left, moving the puck with the foot and shoot with the stick in the left corner.””My recommendation is to pick one of these moves, and then learn another move from exactly the same starting position, but a shot in the opposite corner,” Jonsson adds.

But you have to crawl before you can walk. Let’s break down the Nacka, with the help of Sissie Wikstrom, who was kind enough to write and post online the Bordshockeyskolan, or table hockey school for everyone to consult. (You can check out her tips on fintars and much, much more here: https://bordshockeyskolan.wordpress.com/in-english/)

The Nacka is named after a mid-20th Century Swedish soccer player, ”Nacka” Skoglund. The illustration will help, but here’s how Sissie breaks it down:

*The center has his back to the goalie.

*The puck is placed between the two feet. It will be on the slot.

*Turn the center rod slightly to the left (counter-clockwise) so the center’s free foot (the one that’s on an angle) kicks the puck slightly to the right.

*Quickly turn the center rod back to the right (clockwise from the offensive player’s perspective) so the player’s stick hits the puck into the net (the right side of the net, from the attacking player’s perspective).
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(Illustration by Sissie Wikstrom)
*Players also can have success locking the puck in the little pocket between the upright foot and the stick. But don’t take my word for it. Watch how Sweden’s Thomas Petersson does it at his Table Hockey School.

Now let’s look at the Lillstovel, which means “little boot.”

*The center is facing the goalie.

*The puck is in the middle of the slot.

*Twist the center rod slightly to the right to kick the puck to the left of the slot.

*Quickly turn the center to hit the puck with the stick into the net.

*If done correctly, you will score into the left side of the net, from the attacking player’s perspective. (There’s probably a way to score into the right side of the net, but that’s an advanced lesson for another time.)

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(Illustration by Sissie Wikstrom)

There are many more types of fintars. Let’s take a look at the Spjass, which is kind of a reverse-Nacka.

*Keep the puck on the slot in a similar fashion to the Nacka.
*Turn the center rod to the right (clockwise, from the offensive player’s perspective) to kick the puck to the left of the slot.
*Quickly turn the center rod to the left (counter-clockwise) and hit the puck with the stick. It should go into the left side of the net (from the offensive player’s perspective.)
*Sissie stresses that it’s important to do this slowly at first. If you hit the puck too hard, it will end up in the possession of your opponent’s defensemen. “While you get up to speed of execution, you will also get the advantage of the puck not stopping completely after the first rotation, which makes it easier to get the puck to lift up into the corner,” Sissie said.

It’s good to be able to hit both the Nacka and the Spjass. That’s because ideally, you will be able to hit a fintar to either side using the same setup (more of a long-term goal after you’ve mastered the basics.) This allows you to keep the opponent guessing. Is he going left or is he going right?

Some players put their free arm over the plastic end glass to try to hide which direction they’re going to shoot, but Jonsson said that more important is “to always do the ‘fint’ from the exact same starting position. This means both the puck position and the center player position.”

“Be very aware about exactly where you place the puck and the center player. Practice to score in either corner of the net from the exact same starting position. Watch some YouTube clips of players like Roni Nuttunen, Hans Österman, Maxim Borisov, Ahti Lampi and Jan Pelkonen. You will notice they all start start from slightly different positions compared to each other, but each player always start from the exact same spot,” Jonsson added.

Petersson also shows the Hjerpe and the Osla.

Bottom line, go start practicing.

“Fintars can be very useful but you need to practice them a lot,” Axelsen said. “Always keep them in shape. If you do not practice, your fintars will be one of the tricks which you will lose during your break.”

Player profile: Roman Nezhyba

December 11, 2015

(Editor’s note: This issue we’re talking with Roman Nezhyba, who finished second in the 2015 Stiga Shootout in southern California. The tournament returns on Jan. 23, 2016.)

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(Roman Nezhyba, right, takes on Eric Davis at the 2014 Stiga U.S. Open near Chicago.)

Name: Roman Nezhyba

Hometown: Laguna Hills, California

Birthplace: Czech Republic

Age: 39

Occupation:  Real Estate

Q. When did you first start playing table hockey?

A. When I was about 10 years old, I got a table hockey game for Christmas. It was a local version, made in Brno, Czech Republic. It was the only one available on the market at the time. I started playing it regularly with my best friend Jura, and soon we found ourselves recreating the entire NHL season (21 teams at the time). We scheduled every single game for every team, and that was so many games that even five years later we were still not finished and it still remains unfinished today. Maybe that’s because we played each game with three five-minute periods! I think every team still needs to play like 10 games in the regular season and then do the play-offs. You know, so maybe when Jura and I meet as seniors some day, we just may get it done…

Q. How and when did you rediscover table hockey?

A. I was 19, living in Prague, and I met some local players there and they invited me to play in some kind of a league tournament. That’s how I first got to play on Stiga. I did alright, finished in the middle, but other activities like soccer and tennis and other things took my attention away from the game, and when I moved out of Prague shortly thereafter, it was pretty much over until about 12 years later in late 2008 in Laguna Hills. I browsed online out of curiosity to see whether anybody played the game in SoCal and found Kevin Rafferty’s website and came to his school to play. We started playing regularly together, and then I went to my first big tournament in Las Vegas in January 2009.

Q. What table hockey games do you currently play or own?

A. I played Coleco and Stiga at first, but now it’s Stiga only.

Q. What do you like about the Stiga hockey game?

A. My first non-Stiga, the locally-made Czech game, was really nice. I liked the 3-D players. However, it had a little slot pattern flaw though, and my opponent Jura took advantage of it when we played :-). Also, playing behind the net was not possible. When I first saw a Stiga game, I loved it! Passing the puck behind the net and the whole design felt like playing real hockey!

Q. Who’s your favorite opponent?

A. Any opponent I can beat. I don’t like the ones that beat me.

Q. Do you have any special practice routines in the weeks before a tournament or league date?

A. Not really. Kevin and I play games on regular basis. Before tournaments, we try to play a bit more, as much as possible, other than that no special practice.

Q. What’s the one tip you would give beginning and intermediate Stiga players that would help them improve their game in the short term?

A. Be patient and enjoy playing the game.

Q. Your skill level increased over the years. How did you make the leap?

A. Since I only play against one sparring partner, it results in both of us knowing each others’ moves and patterns extremely well. This forces you to come up with something new from time to time to surprise him and stay ahead. So more and more moves are put on the “menu” and executed in our games. More variety means more weapons and a better chance to win. I think our styles have evolved a lot over the years and strategies we use now are surely very different from what we did in the past.

Q. Any other topics you’d like to touch on?

A. It’s a shame that the Stiga players live so far apart from each other here in North America and get to meet only a few times per year. I envy the European players who get to play in weekly tournaments against each other.

Unfortunately, in this day and age, it’s very difficult to find other competitive players and keep them playing, especially here in the SoCal area. There are so many distractions and other things to do.

I enjoy every opportunity to play and hopefully for many years to come.

New CTHA President Sal Capizzi’s unique league

December 11, 2015

WTHL Guys

(The Winnipeg Table Hockey League. Photo submitted by Sal Capizzi.)

(Editor’s note: Sal Capizzi is the new president of the Canadian Table Hockey Association. He introduced himself to the table hockey public here. We asked him to share some background on his league, which uses a wide variety of table hockey games.)

By Sal Capizzi, CTHL President

The Winnipeg Table Hockey League (WTHL) is a non-profit league comprised of table hockey players and enthusiasts residing in Winnipeg. Coleco Table Hockey is the original game of the WTHL. Games are also played on the Benej, Super Chexx, Stiga, Munro, NHL Ice FX, Irwin, Power Play 2, Carleco, Gretzky’s Overtime, Sportcraft, Regent-Halex, Cresta and Eagle tables as well.

The WTHL believes that a player’s ability should not be judged on any one specific game but on the overall performance on various table hockey games. Various tournaments are played throughout the year.

Back in 1989, the Winnipeg Table Hockey League (WTHL) was organized following years of exhibition table hockey matches in Winnipeg. Sal Capizzi, Tony Capizzi, Mike Capizzi, Antonio Capizzi, Brian Clement and Zachary Mesman were the original six players and continue to be in the league today. Sal Capizzi was elected president of the newly formed league and the first WTHL game was played on a 1985 Coleco 5380 game in January 1989.

Now in its 27th year, the league has grown to 24 players and is the 3rd oldest league in North America. Over the years, there have been 36 different players who have participated at one time or another in the WTHL. Currently, the WTHL uses 25 different games and 20 different models of games in their league. The variety of games used has made the tournaments more interesting and exciting giving lower-ranked players a better chance to upset a higher-ranked player as many players are dominant in one game — usually the game they grew up playing — but do not have that same dominance in other games.

Over the years, the WTHL has made several media appearances on television and radio, print and even billboards promoting the league, their annual cancer fundraiser tournament (WTHL Challenge Cup), and the great game of table hockey. The WTHL have introduced the game to elementary schools in hopes of bringing the game to a new generation of players in similar ways as Carlo Bossio and the NTHL has done in Montreal and Dr. Kevin Rafferty and the SCSTHL has done in Anaheim. The WTHL has been able to partner up with several companies to create mutual beneficial relationships to help increase the spotlight on the game of table hockey. The WTHL has been able to create bigger and better tournaments because of the sponsorships that they have. This past year, the WTHL Challenge Cup was held at the Grand Club Regent Casino, and the tournament had 26 sponsors ensuring a great fundraiser for cancer and that each player came away with great prizes no matter whether they finished in the standings.

In 2015, the league introduced the WTHL Winter Classic Game which was held outdoors on January 1, 2015 with a game time temperature of -26°C. Also on April 16th, the league also played their first ever WTHL Stadium Series games and on June 6, 2015 participated in Our Manitoba Heroes, a Hockey Gala fundraiser for several charities that included current and former NHL players Wayne Babych, Trevor Kidd, Dale Weise and the first ever captain of the Winnipeg Jets, Ab McDonald. After a 20 year hiatus, the WTHL has plans to reintroduce the WTHL All-Star game as well.

WTHL Logo

For more information on the WTHL, please visit: www.winnipegtablehockeyleague.com

Protected: Meet the Eastern Iowa Table Hockey League

December 2, 2014

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Protected: Feature story: Making plays with your Left Wing on Stiga

November 30, 2014

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Protected: Player profile: Kevin Rafferty

November 28, 2014

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Protected: Vintage game spotlight: Wayne Gretzky NHL All-Star

November 28, 2014

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Protected: Table hockey tips: How To Aim

December 19, 2013

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