There were no pit bosses at the Islanders Third Annual Casino Night.
Had security been roaming the floors at Jericho Terrace, Johnny Boychuk and Michael Grabner’s friendly competition – to see who could win more money – would have ended in a windowless room.
Instead, it was all fun and games at the charity event, as the tuxedo-clad Islanders manned gaming tables, sold gift baskets and raised $200K for the Islanders Children’s Foundation.
“It was a really good event,” Boychuk said. “It was quite fun, it looks like everyone is having fun. That’s what it’s all about and raising money for the foundation. It’s all going to a great cause.”
Boychuk and Grabner were staked by a pair of sponsors – Tom Maloney of Ace Hardware and Conor Power of Con-Kel Landscaping – to hit the floor, seeing which player would do better in Vegas.
“This is a fun event playing with fans and sponsors,” Grabner said. “Everyone is having a great time and is relaxed, but playing Johnny was a challenge.”
They each started with $2,000 in chips, playing blackjack head-to-head. The competition started out honestly, but soon fans and players caught wind of the matchup and tried to get in on the action. Grabner was a hawk and caught a fan switching Boychuk’s two of diamonds for a 10 of clubs. The Austrian switched it back, only to see Boychuk hit 21 anyway.
After that, all bets were off.
Grabner left the table and set up in front of Lubomir Visnovsky, another blackjack dealer, hoping for friendly cards. Whether or not Visnovsky was prompted to shortchange Boychuk later on is unknown, but the Slovakian defenseman conveniently forgot to pay out Boychuk’s full winnings, leaving him $100 short.
“I was just trying to make it fun and not too serious,” Grabner said. “Keep it relaxed and keep the people entertained.”
Down early, Grabner won his money back on Colin McDonald’s roulette wheel and then took a commanding lead, besting Boychuk by $7,500, by the time the evening’s live auction started. The pair met again on their original Blackjack table, but this time, Grabner’s craftiness and chip advantage led to decisive wins. Oh, and he also called a “hit” for Boychuk while he was signing autographs and taking pictures with fans. By the time Boychuk turned around, he had unknowingly busted.
That was the last straw for Boychuk, who reportedly enlisted the help of friendly dealer Eric Boulton before showing up at the finish line with $9,500. Grabner cashed out at $8,000.
They both finished the night with a considerable chunk of change, but Danny Ocean won’t be calling these two anytime soon.
While Boychuk and Grabner provided some extra intrigue at the makeshift Montenegro, the real focus of the night was raising money for the Children’s Foundation. The live auction – which featured game-worn jerseys and a pair of road trips with the team – raised $49K alone. The road trip was the top item, selling for $15K.
“We accomplished our goal of raising $200K for a great cause,” Community Relations Manager Ann Rina said. “It’s a night that brings the best out in everybody, our players and our fans and lets them get to really know each other. It was a fantastic event and we can’t wait to do it again next year.”
The Islanders and fans have forged a connection this season on the ice, but Thursday was a chance for fans and players to get better acquainted off of it.
“Everyone just feels more relaxed in a setting like this,” Grabner said. “We’re just interacting. Everyone is more relaxed as the night goes on.”
The ICF was the house Thursday night, but everybody won.