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Avoiding The Knob

from The New York Times

The Lonely Pursuit of Air Hockey Greatness

Yes, air hockey is a professional sport. Join a master and his student on a quest for the championship — and a regulation table that isn’t broken.

By Allie Conti

Ms. Cash, in training. (Note the grip on the mallet, avoiding the knob, the sure sign of a novice.)
Ms. Cash, in training. (Note the grip on the mallet, avoiding the knob, the sure sign of a novice.) CreditGabriela Bhaskar for The New York Times

At a bar in Brooklyn this spring, when the hockey playoffs were still going on, a guy with a nose ring and glasses approached a visitor from Toronto who was watching the Maple Leafs game on a small TV in the corner of the bar. He challenged the Leafs fan to a game of air hockey and even offered to buy him a beer if he won.

He neglected to mention that he was currently ranked No. 10 in the world and was almost certainly the best air hockey player in New York.

His name was Justin Flores, and he had been coming to Ontario, a dive bar in Williamsburg, for weeks, waiting for anybody to approach the table. He’d recently found a student — a New Yorker named Liz Cash, who hoped to become the top-ranked female player in the world, and he had her training with the appropriate intensity. He himself was also getting ready for the World Championships that were set for the end of July in Colorado Springs. Both he and his mentee are attending and fully expect to achieve glory if not win much in the way of money.

But he was always on the lookout for more disciples, and he was always up for a game.

When the Canadian sidled over between periods, Mr. Flores was visibly pumped. If it was hard for him to attract opponents, it was no problem drawing a crowd once a game was underway. For one thing, Mr. Flores, who is 30, holds the mallet by its edge, not by the knob, the way most people do, which is the mark of a novice. He also knows how to put the puck into a so-called circle drift, gently cycling it back and forth before executing a killer shot.

Like a true hustler, Mr. Flores let the Canadian score a few points. The subsequent annihilation of his opponent drew stares. One bearded observer took the Juul out of his mouth and looked stunned. “I’ve never seen anyone play like that,” he said.

[ click to continue reading at NYT ]

Posted on July 22, 2019 by Editor

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