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Casino Night 2011 was win-win evening

by Staff Writer / New York Rangers
VIDEO: Highlights from Casino Night

Casino Night Online Auction Continues

By Dan David,

If there is a signature moment at the Rangers' annual Casino Night event to benefit the Garden of Dreams Foundation, it tends to be the live auction conducted by Rangers announcer Sam Rosen that concludes the evening.

Casino Night 2011, held on Tuesday just a short distance from The Garden at Gotham Hall, was no exception. Rosen, whose skills as a play-by-play man seem rivaled only by his skills as an auctioneer, stood with his broadcast partner Joe Micheletti and ran a spirited 30 minutes of bidding that brought in more than $40,000 to cap off a winning night for the youngsters who benefit from the work of Garden of Dreams.

Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist proudly displays his autographed NHL All-Star Game jersey that he helped auction off at Casino Night 2011. The jersey brought in a winning bid of $6,400 to benefit the Garden of Dreams Foundation.
There were Rosen and Micheletti -- and there were the generous and passionate Rangers fans -- doing all they could to make Tuesday's auction both thrilling and rewarding. The biggest-ticket item was a Henrik Lundqvist autographed NHL All-Star jersey, which brought in $6,400 for Garden of Dreams. Lundqvist proudly displayed the jersey throughout the bidding and posed for a picture with the winner. A signed Lundqvist Heritage jersey went for an additional $4,000 at auction just moments later.

Also helping auction off their own signed jerseys on Tuesday were Rangers alternate captain Ryan Callahan, forward Marian Gaborik, and All-Star defenseman and alternate captain Marc Staal.

With over 400 hundred guests in attendance and many thousands more raised for Garden of Dreams Foundation through a silent auction, Casino Night 2011 was a rousing success and will long be remembered by those lucky enough to attend the fund-raiser.

A Rangers tradition since the 1999-00 season -- and each year since the launch of Garden of Dreams in the fall of 2006 -- Casino Night has been the team’s single biggest fund-raising event on Garden of Dreams’ behalf. The evening gives Rangers fans an opportunity to socialize with players in a casino-style environment that includes Black Jack, roulette, craps, Texas Hold 'em Poker, and other exciting games.

One of the most entertaining aspects of Casino Night is the opportunity to see all of the Blueshirts dressed to the nines in their tuxedos.

"Some of these guys you don't see in a tux that often," said Lundqvist, who is known for his fashion sense. "It's always fun to meet all the guys with their families and also to meet the fans. I really enjoy it. It has been fun every time I have been a part of it."

Lundqvist was participating in his sixth Casino Night, while others like rookie Derek Stepan, were experiencing their first. Stepan said that just a year ago, when he was a sophomore at the University of Wisconsin, he could hardly have imagined being part of such a lavish event.

"I pinch myself every day," Stepan said. "This is just one more amazing part of the experience I have had this year."

An autographed Stepan jersey was part of one of the more popular Silent Auction items -- a Rookie Package that also featured a stick signed by Mats Zuccarello and puck signed by Michael Sauer. Other intriguing Silent Auction items were a Staal brothers jersey package that included a Rangers jersey signed by Marc Staal, a Carolina jersey signed by Marc's older brother, Eric, and a Pittsburgh jersey signed by Marc's younger brother Jordan. Another popular item was a Rangers 85th Anniversary hockey stick, signed by the entire 2010-11 team.

In addition, a group of players' wives and significant others compiled baskets of "favorite things" unique to each player. Baskets for Sauer, Callahan, Dan Girardi, Lundqvist, and Erik Christensen were on display. Lundqvist's basket included everything from an NHL All-Star jersey to a selection of Swedish candies. Christensen's basket was a collection of golf-related items that spoke to the player's off-season love of golf.

Rangers rookie forward Derek Stepan and defenseman Michael Del Zotto interact with fans at one of the Casino Night gaming tables on Tuesday.
"I really have a blast at this," said Rangers forward Brian Boyle, who was taking part in his second Casino Night. "It's a lot of fun to see all the people come out for a great cause. It's also a good chance for us to go out and do something different as a team."

The special chemistry and bond shared by the 2010-11 Rangers was on display, as they gathered around gaming tables with fans and cheered for rolls of the dice the way they might cheer for a great play on the ice.

"I think the fans get really excited about this event each year," said defenseman Matt Gilroy. "They don't always get a chance to meet us in a social setting, but that's what this night is for."

Rangers players posed for countless pictures with fans and engaged in long discussions with them as well. Several players talked about the passion of the Blueshirts fans and how much they appreciated the support of such a loyal following.

“This is one of my favorite nights of the year for the simple fact that the guys are just walking around and relaxing and the fans get a chance to talk to them and see what gentlemen they are,” said Rangers great Adam Graves, who was joined at the event Tuesday by fellow legends and Casino Night veterans Rod Gilbert and Mark Messier. “And  with the way the team is playing, it's a real family atmosphere. This allows the fans, because it is their team, to be a part of that family.”

And at least one player was truly amazed that the fan support even extended to his fashion sense.

"I had a blast last year, and I'm having a blast again this year," said defenseman Michael Del Zotto, who gave up his 2010 white tuxedo for a more traditional one this time around. "I wanted to go back with the white tuxedo, but my teammates gave me some heat about it, so I thought I'd switch it up and I went with a little chocolate brown this year. But this year I'm getting a lot of heat from the fans for not having the white tux. So I really don't know what I'm supposed to do. I don't know if I'm going to have to go with two outfits next year.”
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