Friday, April 24, 2009

COLECO 5380 The S-Slot

A Short history of a Classic Canadian Table Hockey Game

© 2009 Ajit Sarma, Irvine, CA

Where did it start?

Eagle toys first came out with the S-slot pattern that we know as the Coleco 5380 slot pattern.
This was in the early 1960s and there were 2 models from Eagle. There was the NHL Stanley Cup game which was modeled after the 1967 Stanley Cup featuring the Montreal Canadiens and the Toronto Maple Leafs. It also came with a play by play microphone we could all pretend we were Foster Hewitt in the Gondola.

It featured plastic sticks on metal men, used the diamond puck (shorthand < >) and 5” wide nets. There was a real electric goal light on a triangular base behind the net and it had a Left Hand center as you can see in the picture.

The model that preceded this was called the Eagle 550 (551 in the USA) featuring the original S-slot pattern, but this was in the days where metal was cheaper, so this game had metal legs, 2 ½” high metal boards to keep the puck in. The red light in this game was on a 2” plastic post which you inserted behind the net.

This game had a Left Hand Center, as you can see in the picture. In fact neither game had the capability of having a Right Hand center because that’s where they put the eject lever to kick the puck out.

In the late 1960s, Eagle’s last S-slot game was the 5330 which featured the smaller 3 7/8” nets for the first time. They removed the red light post and created the infamous “dead zone” net behind where neither defenseman could reach the puck. However, this allowed the behind the net pass. This game also introduced the plastic goal cup that had 3 functions – it kicked the puck out, had a mechanical red light that pushed up when a goal was scored (leading to the “in and out” is no goal rule), and controlled the left right movement of the goalie using a unique plastic pivot. For the first time, the flat metal men that were later deemed “too dangerous” for kids to play with by over zealous parents and toy safety boards made their appearance.

The 5380 is born!
This was the game and the slot pattern that gave birth to our Coleco 5380 games, when the Connecticut Leather Company – COLECO bought out Montreal’s Eagle toys.

Coleco was into cost savings from the very beginning and promptly abandoned the metal frame and manufactured the games with the red plastic control boards, and used everything else from the 5330. This game was marketed as the Coleco 5380. It, too had a Left Center and introduced the original Coleco solid puck (shorthand [ ]).

In the early 1970s, Coleco decided to introduce a game with the LMOP (last minute of play) player on the bigger straight slot version of the game known as the 5340. They introduced the same concept on the 5380 and used a new mold for the control panel that had a Left Hand center and hole on the right side of the goalie with a fixed rod that was used for the LMOP player. It became pretty obvious that the LMOP player didn’t do much to improve the game and, in fact, it mostly blocked desperate shots when you were trying to tie the game up. It was quickly abandoned. The picture shows location of this player who even had a special post. This was a game that took 17 factory workers to make!

So the LMOP idea was abandoned but the hole on the right hand side was never patched up in the mold , while control panels colors changed from red, to blue (unlicensed NHL players), and then to the orange. The centers were always on the left. But some players when replacing broken rods realized that they could put the center rod on the right hand side using the LMOP hole, and brought this to the attention of Coleco.

When Coleco made the final color switch to black plastic in the early 1980s, they introduced the fantastic 4 ¼” wider nets, the hollow Coleco puck (shorthand -) and the “Swiss cheese” players that had holes in them to, you guessed it, save money! They marketed the Left Hand center games in Ontario and Quebec and most Eastern Canada, and the Right Handed center games in the USA and Western Canada, where new players had no preference or fixed ideas of of where the center “should” be.

That decision divided the table hockey community and today, almost all new players and leagues use the Right Hand center. However, the game was designed with a Left Hand center and even today, if you bring both centers to the middle, in the RH center game, both players cannot advance into the circle, who ever gets there first will block out the other center. IThe center slot curves to the right. When you play LH center there is no such interference. For the RH center to do this, the curve will have to be a mirror image going left. There is only one original Coleco 5380 “bandit” game that has this slot pattern which was never released to the public.

So which one is better – the Left Hand or the Right Hand center?

1) When you play a LH center, you are playing the game as it was designed to be played.
It allows both centers to come into the faceoff circle without any interference. This happens less easily in the RH center game, because slot curves the opposite way to avoid interference.

2) You can play the goalie and the centre with the same hand.
The distance between the LH hole and the goalie rod lets you play goalie and centre with one hand. Some players have developed a fancy flick of the thumb save to rob their opponents of a sure goal. You just cannot do this with a RH center because of the distance from the goalie rods and RH hole on the control panel.

Today, most newer players and some of the Coleco community will say that the LH center interferes with their ability to play the goalie. Some older players will say that the LH center is better. But, they are slowly dying off.

Can both RH and LH center play on the same game?

The short answer is no. Because the rods have to cross underneath the game, the center rods start interfering with each other about 3” outside the face off circle and grind their way into the center if the other center is anywhere near the face off circle.

Birth of the Coleco 5380 Super Center Rods

In 2005, during the first Coleco Classic Cup© (The Grand Daddy of all Coleco 5380 tournaments that are now held in the USA) some players often wondered very loudly where their center was when needed! The millisecond delay in reaction time if you are used to a RH center and play a LH, or vice versa, can often cost you a goal or a clearing play.

In 2006, in Las Vegas, the 2nd Coleco Classic Cup© introduced the Super Center rods which were built so that they could let a player using a LH center to play against someone who used a RH center. Fittingly, it was Dave Kraehling of Mississauga, ON playing a LH center who beat Dr. Lou Marinoff of Monroe, NH playing a RH center in a thrilling 7 game final that was one for the ages.

Since then, the Coleco Classic Cup© players choose their LH or a RH center. It is the only tournament to do so in both USA and Canada, This tournament is held in Las Vegas in late January every year where Coleco Classic players can play their best game on the S-slot pattern . In the Southern California Table Hockey League SCTHL everyone plays with thie choice.

Who plays with LH centers?

There are only 2 tournaments played with a LH centre. They use the original rules for the Coleco 5380. The Johnny Good Guy© tournament in Brampton Ontario, is run by Peter Moulton and John Beedham usually around Easter. They played their 36th consecutive tournament this year.

The other is the Coleco Classic Cup in Las Vegas, NV which actually is the only table hockey tournament still using the original Coleco 5380 boards.

When the 5380 game was revived in Quebec, Martin Labelle, Pascal Leclerc, and Carlo Bossio all made games that could be played with LH center or RH center to allow players to be modern or play the orignal Classic style.

Who makes them?

Here are 3 people who can make a Coleco 5380 replica game:
Montreal (from Carlo Bossio)
Chicago (from Rich Thill)
Los Angeles (from AJ Sarma).

SCTHL hopes to showcase the 5380 game in Berne, Switzerland during the IIHF World Ice Hockey Championships on May 8 and 9th during the semifinals and the finals.
I hope this has answered many questions. If you have any more please feel free to contact me.
© 2009 Ajit Sarma, Irvine, CA