SUNRISE, Fla. - Noel Acciari is used to drawing some tough assignments.
As the man in the middle of the Florida Panthers very effective fourth line, the tough-as-nails center has been successful this season in shutting down some of the best players in the NHL.
But at Monday's "Ice & Dice" Casino Night, Acciari might have finally met his match.
"I'm up, but this dealer right now has been pretty tough," said Acciari, standing in front of a large stack of chips at the blackjack table. "I want the other dealer back. He was far more generous."
Although players like Acciari ditched their skates and pads in favor of suits and ties, there was still plenty of passing and hitting going on at the dozen or so green-felt gaming tables that filled up the lower bowl at BB&T Center during the team's annual casino-themed cocktail fundraiser.
Presented by JetBlue and BB&T, "Ice & Dice" provided fans with a unique opportunity to chat with and gamble alongside Panthers players, coaches and broadcasters for a good cause.
All proceeds from the event benefited the Florida Panthers Foundation.
"It's awesome," Acciari said. "Just seeing everyone come out and support the Foundation and the team, it's a great experience. It's great to see the support from everyone here and great to meet new people. As one of the new guys on the team, it's also really great to meet new fans."
Added Panthers winger Frank Vatrano: "It's an enjoyable night. I'm not very good at gambling. I'm 0-for-13 at the roulette table, but it's for a good cause. It's been a lot of fun. It's nice to meet the fans that support us… We've already been getting great support from them all year long."
When asked who had the best poker face, most players had the same answer.
"Barky, for sure," Panthers winger Jonathan Huberdeau smiled. "He never laughs."
In addition to various table games, there was also plenty of food, beverages and incredible live entertainment for fans to enjoy, including a band, costumed entertainers and more than a few eye-popping performers, such as a bartender that looked like something out of Cirque du Soleil.
And while JetBlue and BB&T were the presenting sponsors of the event, many of the Panthers other partners also had a presence. Drinks from True Vodka and the Funky Buddha Brewery could be found at the bar, while Hoffman's Chocolates provided delectable deserts.
"We're very, very fortunate that we have some great partners," Panthers Senior Vice President Shawn Thornton said. "BB&T and JetBlue reached out asking about this event after attending last year asking how they could be a part of it. They really stepped up to the plate. A big thank you to everyone that's here. We're very lucky to have such good partnerships."
Thornton said that the guest list at this year's event nearly doubled to roughly 500 attendees.
"My favorite part of this event is seeing all the guys," Thornton said. "They have so much fun at this event. Last year we told them they could leave around 9:00 p.m., and they were all still here until 10:30 p.m. hanging out and mingling. Any time you can create an event that gives back to the Foundation, supports great causes and is something that players enjoy, it's a win, win, win."
In order to raise money for the Foundation, the team held a silent auction featuring memorabilia and unique experiences. Additionally, fans could also purchase raffle tickets for a chance to win some other incredible prizes, such as a trip to Las Vegas or a VIP tour of the team's press box.
Established to help benefit the South Florida community, all of the funds raised from "Ice & Dice" will go toward supporting the four key pillars of the Foundation: youth hockey, children's health and education, veteran affairs and raising awareness for the endangered Florida panther.
"This is a great chance for us to raise some crucial funds that will go right back into the community," said Panthers Senior Director of Foundation & Community Relations John Colombo. "Our goals are always simple… All the money that's raised tonight goes to our pillars and can help make a huge impact on what we're trying to do here in South Florida.
"This event gives fans an opportunity to interact with players in a way that they normally wouldn't. They can rub elbows and really get to know them. The players also have a good time getting to play casino games with them. Our goal for this event is to show what our Foundation is doing, but also to give fans an experience where they can have fun and enjoy themselves."