TORONTO - Dominic Moore has come a long way in a short period of time.
Two years ago he stepped away from hockey to be with his wife, Katie, who was battling a rare form of liver cancer that claimed her life in January 2013 at the age of 32. Moore returned to the ice last fall with the New York Rangers and played a role in their run to the Stanley Cup final.
"Coming back after taking so much time off was very tough," Moore said in a recent interview. "The beginning of the season was a struggle to say the least just getting back up to speed. The gratifying thing was to be playing good hockey as a team at the end of the season and to have the run we did."
After re-signing with the Rangers on a US$3-million, two-year deal, the Toronto native is settling back in to the career he left abruptly during the 2012 playoffs. He had 18 points this past season and eight more during the playoffs as a bottom-six centre.
With the hockey season over, Moore's focus shifts to his charity work, which has received increased attention thanks to the Rangers' run and his return to the sport that earned him the Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy. The third incarnation of his annual ping-pong charity event, Smashfest, takes place Thursday at the Steam Whistle Brewery.
Like Moore's career, Smashfest has received more exposure and become one of the bigger events on the summer social scene in the NHL.
"Definitely the last few months with the playoffs and stuff like that probably drew a lot of attention to the (Katie Moore) Foundation," Moore said in a phone interview. "Smashfest has also gotten some attention through that and some exposure. The exposure for the event is growing every year. It's nice to see it. It's as much fun having it be kind of an awareness and media event as it is for the actual dollars raised."
Last year's event raised over $100,000 for research into rare cancers with the Katie Moore Foundation and concussions with the Steve Moore Foundation. Smashfest actually began as a way to fund concussion research after Steve Moore, Dominic's brother, had his career ended in 2004 when he was attacked by Todd Bertuzzi.
Among those expected to attend Thursday's event are Stars centre Tyler Seguin, Sharks centre Logan Couture, Maple Leafs winger David Clarkson, Hurricanes centre Jeff Skinner, Flyers goaltender Steve Mason, Canucks winger Alex Burrows and ex-Leafs goalie Curtis Joseph. Fans who buy tickets (at a price of $250 US or Canadian) can play ping pong against the celebrities in attendance.
"It's a pretty special atmosphere, and the way that the event is organized, it's very social and interactive," the 33-year-old Moore said. "That's, I think, what is making people come away so excited about it. I couldn't be more grateful to the guys for making that happen."
Beyond the star power, Moore's emotional story has captured fans' attentions beyond New York and the NHL. He was the subject of an ESPN "E:60" documentary that brought even more recognition to the foundation.
In addition to that documentary, Moore received the Masterton Trophy at last month's NHL Awards for "perseverance and dedication to hockey."
"It's something that reminds me of the gratitude that I have for everyone around me: teammates, family, friends," Moore said. "It means a lot. It's an award that you do want to win. It's an award that I have a ton of respect for. ... I think that perseverance and dedication are things that I've always tried to do the best I can with throughout my career all the way along."
Moore said he likes to separate his hockey career from his charity work, but they undoubtedly meet at Smashfest, which has grown since the inaugural event in 2012.
"The first year we weren't sure how it was going to be received and obviously the first time you do anything it's tough getting it off the ground," Moore said. "When it was received so well, it was a very gratifying feeling.
"People will come and they see it and they experience the event, the feedback we've gotten has been really awesome to hear and it makes us feel good about what we're doing and want to keep ramping it up every year."