It was nothing but funds and games recently as the Toronto Maple Leafs players got behind the blackjack tables in aid of Go Kids Go! The Leafs Fund and Covenant House, Canada's oldest and largest youth shelter.
Approximately 600 of the Leafs biggest fans, who had purchased tickets to the 8th Annual Casino Night, packed the glamourous Liberty Grand for just-for-fun gambling, noshing, and autograph-seeking. The fans giddily rubbed shoulders with their ice idols, as every Leaf from Wade Belak to Dmitry Yushkevich, dressed in his black tie best took his place next to a professional dealer and doled out the cards.
While most of the players were comfortable in their unusual role as casino employees and accustomed to meeting their fans, some could not contain their excitement. Rookie goaltender Sebastien Centomo was thrilled to have the opportunity to meet some of his new fans in such intimate quarters..
"I'm a little nervous," said Centomo, a little star-struck himself. "There are a lot of big stars here tonight shaking my hand."
Asked if he had taken any special training to deal the cards, Centomo gratefully indicated the dealer smiling next to him and acknowledged, "sure I've been to casinos before, but today I learned from my buddy here."
The more experienced players seemed to feel at ease about their card game abilities, especially Wade Belak. After hearing about his most memorable gambling experience, you will know why.
"Two years ago I went to Vegas and I won about four grand in about five minutes. It was just me and the dealer, going toe-to-toe. I cleaned her out and I left. That was the only time I have ever won at gambling."
Adults became children again in the presence of their hockey heroes, none more popular than Darcy Tucker who seemed to make an impact on more than one attendee.
Comments in jest like 'Darcy miscounted my cards, and he took my money when he should have paid my money' and 'I kicked Darcy's butt in blackjack' were heard in the hall.
Another popular dealer was Tie Domi. The crowd of fans never thinned around his table even as the games temporarily closed during the live auction.
"It's always a healthy thing for the players to be amongst fans," Leafs President Ken Dryden said philosophically. "Events like this remind players of what the fans are feeling, how deeply they're feeling it and how much what players do matters. I think that every player comes away exhilarated and energized."
Players and fans played their cards right and had a great time in the name of charity. The result of all this fun was a healthy $100,000 fundraising effort to help Covenant House and the charities supported by Go Kids Go! The Leafs Fund.