Lightning players, coaches and team representatives brought a touch of Las Vegas to Tampa Bay and to the St. Pete Times Forum on Sunday, February 13 as they played host to the organization’s sold-out 9th annual “Glitz & Sticks, a Celebrity Casino Evening.” It was a unique opportunity for fans and players alike to unite together and go “All In” to raise money for a tremendous cause.
Presented by DEX Imaging and Sun Sports, the elegant affair once again served as the Lightning Foundation’s annual hallmark event with proceeds benefiting the Tampa General Hospital Children’s Medical Center and the Lightning Foundation.
The evening kicked off with players and coaches arriving at 5 p.m. for an exclusive Patron’s Party, which served as special appreciation ceremony for the sponsors and community leaders who are just as committed to the community as the Lightning organization.
After meeting sponsors, players proceeded downstairs to begin choreographing their own signature dance moves. The unexpected moves, conceptualized solely by the players, which were executed during team introductions when the spotlight was shinning on them, offered a rare glimpse into the side of player’s personalities that fans may not have been accustomed to.
Of the dance moves, all which merited their own applause, there were a couple notable ones including captain Vincent Lecavalier doing a Michael Jackson high leg kick and goaltender Dan Ellis dropping down to the floor and sustaining his weight with one arm behind his back for a moment before snapping back up to his feet.
Once the raucous applause subsided from the crowd, emcee Rick Peckham once again turned the floor over to celebrity auctioneer Jen Holloway of Brighthouse Networks for a spirited live auction. Among the items fetching top dollar were a road rip with the team during the 2011-12 season, a meet-and-greet with vice president and general manager Steve Yzerman and suite package and an opportunity to go clay shooting with the Lightning’s “DNA Line” of Adam Hall, Nate Thompson and Dana Tyrell.
At the conclusion of the animated bidding war, fans began to congregate at the black jack tables, featuring Lightning players as guest dealers, to attempt to win fake money that could be traded for raffle tickets which could then be used to win prizes. Admitted by alternate captain Mattias Ohlund, and he wasn’t the only one feeling this way, there was a lot more unfamiliarity involved when it came to dealing cards rather then doling out big hits.
“I am a horrendous dealer,” Ohlund said. “I play once a year and this is the event that I play at.”
However, when considering that it is all for such a great cause he was quick to embrace the challenge.
“It means so much to be able to give back to the community,” Ohlund went on to say. “Obviously, Tampa Bay has really been supportive of us over the years so it is really great to be able to give back tonight. As an organization we are nothing without our fans and our community.”
Aside from black jack tables, those who were in attendance also had the opportunity to partake in other casino style games. Just as it was the year before, the craps table which was manned by alternate captain Martin St. Louis was a hot spot for those who enjoy fast-paced gaming.
“I saw a lot of smiles on everyone’s faces tonight,” said St. Louis. “This is an event that I know is going to be on the calendar and seeing everyone so happy tonight is what it is all about. It’s a good cause and we are raising money and all-in-all it is a great night.”
The Lightning Foundation, which is responsible for putting the evening on, has an advocate in foundation director Kasey Smith. She has been a pivotal force in instilling the event as a calendar date to be looked forward to on an annual basis.
“Without a doubt we look forward to this event every year,” Smith said. “As our largest fundraiser of the season our goal has always been to raise as much money as possible for both Tampa General Hospital and the rest of our wonderful community through the Lightning Foundation.
“Just as important, our hope is that this evening provides a unique opportunity for our team and supporters to interact. Tonight I think we accomplished that. We saw a lot of interaction and funds were raised. Overall it was a tremendous evening.”
Newcomers to the organization were also quickly introduced to the keynote event. Ellis was spinning the money wheel all night (aside from the few minutes that he was able to trick forward Nate Thompson into taking a turn) while forward Dominic Moore ran the roulette table. Both agreed that having the opportunity to give back to the community and interact with the supporters was a very special part of the evening.
“Fans really had a good time tonight,” said Moore. “It seemed like they really enjoyed being here. For me, interacting with everyone was really the best part.”
Added Ellis, “It’s been a great experience. The team has really put on a great event here and the people have come out with some unbelievable support. We are all here supporting a great cause and it’s been great to come and meet some of our supporters. It’s a great way to connect with our fans.”
The gaming tables weren’t the only places where party goers were enjoying themselves. Many who were in attendance also found the opportunity to meet and interact with the players who were mingling among them just as thrilling. Of those in attendance, no one seemed to be more excited to meet the Lightning personalities than Tampa Bay Rays all-star third baseman Evan Longoria. Longoria, who comes to several Lightning games throughout the course of a season, was found chatting with Lightning players and personnel about his admiration for the game of hockey and the wear and tear that players subject themselves to on a nightly basis. Needless to say it was a special treat for fans to also have the opportunity to meet another sports face of the Bay Area.
Those looking to take a breather from indulging in gambling and star searching were presented with a wide array of other activities from exploring the copious spread of gourmet delicacies, to mingling with the Lightning Girls or even talking hockey with fellow fans.
As is the case with all great things it was only inevitable that the night would end much earlier than most people may have wanted it to. Yet, all those who were in attendance can take solace in knowing that their support and contributions on that one special evening will have a much longer lasting impact in the Bay Area.
As a beneficiary of the evening, Tampa General Hospital CEO Ron Hytoff was eager to share that the money that was raised from the event already had a future purpose.
“The money that we will receive from tonight’s event will be going towards a children’s medical center that we are going to begin building in about two years,” Hytoff said. “This is a fantastic relationship for us. We truly enjoy the Lightning and we love having the players at the hospital to visit the children and other patients. I think we will continue this relationship for a long time.”
Recognizing the importance of the event for the Lightning and the Bay Area community, presenting sponsor representative Paul Kennedy thought that Sun Sports’ involvement with the event was a no-brainer.
“This franchise means a great deal to Fox Television and I think they show it every game with our cast who put their heart and soul into representing this franchise in the very best light,” Kennedy said. “I personally have always considered the Lightning Foundation the soul of the franchise because it provides so much financial support and good will for this community and an evening like this is such a wonderful event.
“It’s different than winning games, yet Jeff Vinik recognizes that it is as important as winning games.”
A special thanks to the generosity of each of the over 800 guests in attendance as well as major sponsors Sykes, CCM, Infinity Technology Solutions, Match Up Promotions, CW44, Alexander Orthopedic Associates LLC., BB&T, BlueCross BlueShield of FL, Carousel Industries, Crossline Marketing, E Cab Elevators, Fastsigns, Frank Crum, Grant Thornton, M&I Bank, Print All Promotions, Russian Standard Vodka, Southwest Airlines, St. Petersburg Times, Tampa General Hospital, Banfi Vintners, Lokey Automotive Group, New York Life, NexxtWorks, Tires Plus, ProVest, Bailey, Chancey Design, J.C. Newman Cigar Company, Oki Printing Solutions, Prevail Pest Control, Sacino’s Formal Wear, Teco Energy, Tampa Preparatory School, U-Save Car & Truck Rental, Volkswagon, Weldon Industries, Comanco, Greene Financial Group, Clear Channel Radio, Cox Radio and WQYK 99.5 for supporting this tremendous cause and proving yet again that in the NHL, the greatest assists happens off the ice.