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The underdog

by Derek Jory / Vancouver Canucks

This seems too good to be true.

After all my begging and pleading, I’ve finally been granted a seat at the Canucks poker game as we make our way from Dallas to Colorado.

Me, a fan masquerading as a team employee, sitting across from Roberto Luongo, who is beside Ryan Kesler, who is across from Alex Burrows, who is to my left. Kevin Bieksa was kind enough to let me fill his shoes for a round of Texas hold’em.

Am I qualified? Of course I’m qualified, I’ve been playing poker with buddies for a long time, I even watch the pros play on TV when I can’t find the remote.

But the stakes have never been like this.

On the line is bragging rights, which, in this group, is greater than gold. It's just a friendly game between friends, but it feels anything but.

There’s a piece of lined paper in the middle of the foldout table with a yellow HB-2 pencil on top. This round of poker has been going on for a while judging by all the lines and scratches on the sheet; it looks like a pair of two-year-olds had a scribbling contest from top to bottom.

I can’t tell who won the last round, but by the looks of Luongo, it wasn’t him. He’s got a great poker face though, so maybe he’s already working me over.

Kesler, he’s always serious, and this instance is no exception. No smiles, not even a smirk.

Burrows is Jekyll and Hyde, your pal one minute, enemy the next. He’s jovial as he picks up the freshly opened deck of red Bicycle playing cards and begins to shuffle. The cherubs on the cards are now dancing around the deck as kings and queens mingle with numerical commoners.

He stops. So does my heart.

It’s go time.

I’m trying to put on a serious poker face (mum mum mum mah), but there’s a smile I can’t fight back. This is awkward, I look like Shrek. And inside I’m as nervous as ever. I feel like a kid who snuck into an R-rated movie.

First card goes to Kesler as Burrows jets them out from left to right. I try to blame my shaking hand on turbulence as I grab the first card, before remembering you don’t touch the cards until the dealer is done.

Luckily the guys don’t kick me out for this flagrant party foul. No more rookie mistakes allowed.

You can do this Derek, deep breaths. You once met the guy who built the hot tub for the movie Hot Tub Time Machine, this is nothing.

My cards couldn’t be better. I’ve been dealt a pair of aces, aka bullets, pocket rockets, American Airlines – hey, that’s where the Stars play! And the Canucks beat the Stars last night!!! That has to be a sign.

Two aces and an eight. I’m smiling. I’m definitely smiling. It’s ace, eight, ace in my hand, that kind of spells ABBA.

You are the Dancing Queen, young and sweet, only seventeen. Dancing Queen, feel the beat from the tambourine…

Wow I’m an idiot. Focus.

Burrows flips the turn card. It’s a seven, a ruby red seven of diamonds to be precise. There’s no money on the line, just pride, so everyone is in.

No – wait – Kesler folded. His lunch has arrived, and it looks pretty good. Are those shiitake mushrooms in his pasta con le sarde? And what is that sweet aroma? Ginger? I could really go for some of that pan-seared asparagus…

Shut up stomach. Another peep out of you and I’ll chew some of that terrible Thrills gum AND swallow it.

Only three cowboys left in this rodeo. The river card flops onto the table and I am swimming in success. It’s an eight, a jet-black eight of clubs, or clovers as I like to call it. These guys will take out clubs and hit me in the clovers if I call it that.

Burrows laughs and smacks his cards down with emphasis. Apparently he knows his hand isn’t good enough to earn him respect this time around.

So it’s me versus Luongo, the king of poker. He’s a natural at this; he’s shifty with cards in his hands and throughout his career when the chips have been down for him, he’s always rebounded.

They’ll be no rebounding from this. I am about to beat him, Kesler and Burrows at their own game.

Read'em and weep boys, two pairs and a seven, lucky number seven.

Time seems to stop. As I look up at Luongo I’m grinning like David Caruso after solving a crime. My mind works overtime trying to come up with a catchphrase he’d use in this instance.

Odd, looks like I beat the odds…

The Jory is in and the verdict is: I win…

I risked it and I got the biscuit…

Luongo laughs a creepy laugh like he knows something I don’t. Oh, right, he hasn’t revealed his cards yet.

Everything is now in slow motion as his right hand makes a slow decent to the table, cards acting as a hand fan.

I can’t believe it…

Someone grabs my shoulder and jostles me. “Derek,” says Jeff Vinnick, “we’re in Denver.”

Whatever Jeff, kind of busy here.

“Derek, wake up. And wipe off that drool.”

Apparently it was too good to be true.

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