Mention Teddy KGB to Matt Martin and you'll pique his interest.
Sure, it's just an offhand reference to John Malkovich's villain in Rounders, the 90s underground-poker flick, but it's appreciated by a poker player like Martin. If he had to pick the team's top card-shark he'd nominate Adam Pelech, though Pelech's tell isn't as easy to spot.
Martin was ready to play on Thursday night, as he hosted the fifth-annual Matt Martin Foundation Poker Night at Chateau Briand. It's become an annual unofficial start to the season, as Martin and a handful of his Islanders teammates played cards with fans to raise money for charity. The total pot is about $130K, all for charity.
"Every year the turnout gets bigger and bigger," Martin said. "It's a great night, pretty easy going overall. We interact with the fans and raise some money for important causes. That's the most important thing, that's what we're here for, but to be able to have fun doing it is good for us.
The money goes to providing service dogs for military veterans and on Thursday night Martin presented Petty Officer Albert Lee with a German Shepard named Clarkie - in honor of Hall of Famer Clark Gillies. Lee - who did two tours of duty in Kuwait and Iraq and was in the Bosnian War - suffers from PTSD and has trouble being in crowded places. With Clark by his side, the veteran embraced being a room of 400 people on Thursday and was grateful for Martin's foundation for the generous gift.
"It means everything," Lee said of receiving the service dog. "I used to never come out in public, nowhere crowded. I've spent about two weeks with him now and it's helped me open up to people and be around people more… It opens me up and I'm less on the defensive."
The money to adopt and train a service dog comes from the generous contributions of Islanders fans who turn out year after year to Martin's event. This year attracted 400 card players - the biggest event the foundation has staged - including 150 military, police and firefighters, who were all on hand thanks to donated tickets from sponsors.
Video: Matt Martin Poker Tournament
"People have continued to come and support. I'd imagine this event has doubled since our first year, same with the hockey camp and the bowling event," Martin said. "A lot of familiar faces, a lot of the same people come and I can't appreciate that enough."
Playing poker is easy and fun way for Martin and the Islanders to help give back to the community. They mingle with the fans, take pictures - Martin said hello to a young fan via FaceTime - though they are targets at the table, as the guest to knock out an Islander gets a free signed jersey. Martin said he was eliminated on the first hand a few years back, calling an all-in on a two-pair flop that turned into a full house the other way. Even Mike McDermott - the hero in Rounders - didn't win them all. Perhaps that's the better metaphor for Martin's foundation, which comes away as the big winner of poker night every year.