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by Don Schwartz / Arizona Coyotes
A taste of hockey’s haute cuisine came to Arena on Monday night as Coyotes Charities hosted Pucks & Passports, presented by Gila River Casinos.

This face-off to the hockey season and charitable fundraiser provided participants with a world tour in a matter of hours, with Coyotes players, coaches and management along for the ride. A virtual culinary cruise made its way through the homelands of the Coyotes’ players with samplings of traditional food and drinks from the seven countries currently represented on the team’s roster: U.S., Canada, Sweden, Finland, Denmark, Czech Republic and Russia.

Pucks & Passports Photo Gallery
Passports were given out upon arrival at the event, which were then stamped as fans “entered” each country. Keeping with the international theme were one-of-a-kind “hometown jerseys” available through a blind auction. Worn by the players during introductions and featuring the colors and flags of each player’s country of origin, these jerseys were among the many auction and raffle items that helped raise funds for Coyotes Charities – the beneficiary of the evening’s efforts – and set a strong statement for the team’s 2008-09 charitable campaign.

“We’re really proud to be a part of such a great charity event,” said Manuel Hernandez, Gila River Casinos Community Liaison. “Events like this do so much for the community in raising funds for needed programs. From just watching the videos and pictures being shown here tonight – including a photo from a visit to one of our Boys and Girls Clubs – you can see the tremendous impact the Coyotes have in our community.”

Daniel Carcillo at the Pool Table
Throughout the year, Coyotes Charities counts on fans and partners to help raise funds for the Valley’s youth. Contributions assist community programs that promote healthcare, education, cultural arts and sports. Since its inception in 2001, Coyotes Charities has granted more than $1 million to local non-profit organizations that share the Coyotes Charities mission and Pucks & Passports helped to continue this tradition of giving.

“We’re so thankful for the support we received from all the ‘travelers’ in attendance,” said Sarah Finecey, Coyotes Charities Executive Director. “But even though tonight had an international flair, it’s the children right here in our backyard who will benefit from this event. It’s important for us to get our annual charitable campaign started on the right foot and there’s no doubt that we succeeded, due to the generosity of our fans.”

Pucks & Passports also provided plenty for those hockey fans who couldn’t help but feel a bit excited about being on top of the Coyotes’ home ice, albeit covered with planks. General Manager Don Maloney and Head Coach Wayne Gretzky each spoke to the audience, expressing their excitement for the upcoming season and hope for the continued growth of the team’s rising stars.

Volunteers at Pucks & Passports
Perhaps one of the evening’s more humorous moments – and highlighting the Coyotes’ multi-cultural make-up – came from one of the team’s first-year players when Gretzky decided to hold a drawing to determine which Coyotes’ newcomer would join him up on stage in a bit of rookie hazing.

The lucky winner was defenseman Jonas Ahnelov, who did his best to answer questions about his new hometown, while battling his strong Swedish accent and on-stage jitters.

“I didn’t have a clue that it was going to happen, but when I heard my name I just went up there and talked,” Ahnelov said with a smile. “I’m not that good at talking in front of that many people, but I tried.”

Forward Shane Doan closed out the event with a special captain’s toast to the season ahead as he also thanked those in attendance for their continued support of the team.

Next on the charitable calendar is the Coyotes Charities Golf Classic, presented by Heritage Graphics. This annual gathering on the greens is set for Oct. 27 at Legend Trail Golf Club in Scottsdale. For more information, please visit

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