The Dryden Observer

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FEATURE: Hockey Night in…miniature?

Chris Marchand

Chris Marchand served as editor of the Dryden Observer from August 2009 to April 2018.

A local man has come to the end of a long journey of obsession.

Local hockey uber-fan Mike Nerino presides like puppet master over his dizzyingly-detailed custom rod, hockey table — recently completed after over five years of work on the project. Photos by Chris Marchand

While the job is done, the love of the game reigns eternal in local school teacher Michael Nerino’s jersey-lined basement — a shrine to Canada’s game.

It wasn’t Nerino’s first attempt at restoring and customizing a rod hockey table, a classic toy that defined a generation of young Canucks — but it will be his last, he says. About a half dozen of his earlier efforts can be found in rumpus rooms all over town, but this latest effort will stand as the pinnacle of his efforts.

“The reason I’ve done this is so I could stop,” he said. “I’ve pushed it as far as I can go just to get it done. People have asked me to build one for them and I’ve said ‘no thanks’. I’ve got what I want. This is the retirement one.”

A player of the game might say Nerino’s, ‘left it all on the ice’ — having expended every possible effort. Indeed few decisions in its construction were made casually.

“It came in the mail the day Barack Obama was elected…the first time,” he said.

The table portion was sourced from an online purveyor over five years ago while Nerino has been working since before the birth of one of his children to incorporate it into a custom table base and imbue it with a dizzying level of detail.

Drawers set into the cabinet contain interchangable starting lineups from 48 of his favourite teams from hockey history. Nerino says he moved from hand-painted plastic figures to flat players printed on a stiff cardstock and laminated, which he says can be mass produced, are durable and easily interchanged.

“They’re in chronological order. The first one is the team my wife’s grandfather won the Memorial Cup with — The Port Arthur West End Bruins, 1948. I’ve also got the 1974 Thunder Bay Twins — that’s the only team with real faces on it. I had an old team photo of theirs so I superimposed their faces on the template I made. I’ve done the ‘72 Summit Series Red Army, the ‘73 Jets. I spent a lot of time on finding out what the lineups were. Chris Pronger’s in here about three times unintentionally because I liked (St. Louis) Blues in 2000, I was a Flyers fan in 2010, I was a Ducks fan, an Oilers fan…”

Customizations include an operational lighted scoreboard that keeps score via a sensor in the goals.

Nerino also built an old video iPod into the scoreboard and produced a custom 15 minutes video to fill three five minute periods with organ music and crowd sounds interspersed by ‘beer break’-length snippets of Coaches Corner. He says incorporating the electronics was among the more difficult elements of the journey.

“The engineering of getting the puck to fall in such a way that it triggers the infrared sensor, was tough,” he said. “The scoreboard was really testy — to figure out a design where everything was going to fit inside and not be bulky and in the way.”

Along with meticulously reproduced board advertising mirroring the former Winnipeg Arena, built-in lighting illuminates arena crowd full of recognizable Canadian personalities from astronaut Col. Chris Hadfield to Polka-Roo.

A portion of Nerino’s jersey collection.


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