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Penguins In Wonderland

by Nicole Jelinek / Pittsburgh Penguins

It was once said by a little white rabbit, "I'm late, I'm late for a very important date."

However, on Wednesday, no one was late for their important date through the looking glass and into PPG Paints Arena, where instead of ice, pucks and goals guests stumbled into a Mad Tea Party. 

Down a white hallway of luminous multicolored lights, up to a checkered floor and to the looking glass, Alice herself greeted guests. From there, they reached into a jar reading, "Eat me." Inside were mints that were given as the golden tick to go through the entryway into a casino wonderland.

This was the whimsical open to the Penguins' third annual Aces & Ice Casino Night presented by Trib Total Media. The theme of the night was the Mad Hatter's Tea Party, where patrons were able to be a part of the night and interact with the Penguins players.

"This is just amazing, it's the third year we have done the casino format," said Dave Soltesz, president of the Pittsburgh Penguins Foundation. "You can see the people getting involved, a lot of hats and dress-up too. The cool thing about it is the Penguins Foundation raises money not only for itself, but also for the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation and the Mario Lemieux Foundation."

Some guests were new to the event, but others have been coming since before it became Aces & Ice. Petrina Lloyd remembers being at the event when it was called Skates and Plates. The Penguins have been doing this annual charity event since 1986 and have been able to raise over $6 million.

Down the Rabbit Hole

Walking on the floor of the arena was actually like being in Wonderland. There were long tables set up just like the Mad Hatter's tea party and many of the guests had some amazing hats to fit the theme.

"It is wonderful, walking in, it felt like a different world," said Katie Walos from Franklin Park. "Each year it is such a fun event to come to with different themes. The whole group of us planned our outfits together, so it was fun."

Dale Wayton works at the Kards Unlimited joke shop in Shadyside and said,

"I was coming to this Mad Hatter event and asked can I borrow one? And they said yes. It feels great to put up money for a good cause. It is a great time."

The guests did amazing with fitting the theme. Some hats were homemade and others were bought, but the players seemed to blend right in with their suites and fit their role of party dealers.

 

The Pool of Tears

The scenery was very uplifting with the theme that had everyone mad, but in a good way. People enjoyed food, beverages, a silent auction, magic and more. However, spirits were most high at the tables where they could interact with the players, who were teamed up two to a table.

Olli Maatta and Patric Hornqvist seemed to have their table locked down. It was filled the entire night and both dealers seemed to be taking the game very seriously. In fact, Hornqvist gave Maatta a pep talk before they started.

"Oh yeah," Hornqvist said when asked about the talk. "We always have pep talks. Olli is great. He is the best helper I ever had!"

Their pep talk must have worked because it kept the same group there for the majority of the night.

"We are having a fantastic time over here," said guest John Nictora. "The players are just your average guys and it is like hanging out with your friends."

Penguins president and CEO David Morehouse was impressed with both the players' abilities and the event.

"Some of the players have been better than others at blackjack, which is not surprising, but you can see a difference," he said with a smile. "Some of them look like they have been dealing their whole lives. Everyone looks like they are enjoying themselves."

Ian Cole was definitely one who had fun, even though he did not know the game at his table very well.

"I would say I am learning craps, but I am really not learning," Cole laughed. "(Eric Fehr) knows what he is doing and we have professionals: I am just working the stick here and giving the people their dice."

A Tea Party Reunion

It was a very small world in Wonderland because one guest and player went way back. Attendee Nancy Klasnick enjoyed being at Jake Guentzel's table because they were family friends.

"We know Jake's parents because his dad coached our son when he played junior hockey in Omaha, Nebraska." Klasnick said. "We have kept in contact with the family and I sent his mom some photos of him playing and she texted me back saying 'Thank you for the photos, he loves his card games!' They have a wonderful family that we have known for a long time."

When asked about Nancy, Jake smiled and said, "They knew my parents before I was even born! I haven't seen them in so long, so it was special to have them here."

As for him loving card games, he chuckled and said, "Cards has been a family thing. We love it."

Video: Guests dress for the Mad Hatter's casino tea party

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