More than 500 Rangers fans flocked to the Theater at Madison Square Garden lobby on Tuesday night for the team's annual Casino Night event to benefit Rangers Cheering for Children and the Child Abuse Prevention Center.
For two hours, the entire Rangers team entertained attendees in a Las Vegas casino-style environment. Players served as dealers at blackjack and poker tables and also joined in the fun of roulette and craps -- as guests "gambled" with prepaid chip vouchers purchased in support of the two charities.
The evening began with a red-carpet welcome for all of the Rangers, including eight of the team's nine Olympians. Several brought their Olympic medals with them, including gold medalist Henrik Lundqvist and silver medalist Ville Nieminen. Though tired from all the travel, both players said they were eagerly looking ahead to the rest of the NHL season just days after playing in the gold-medal game. Only Fedor Tyutin, who had not yet returned from overseas, was absent.
The main event, presented by OppenheimerFunds, drew the largest Casino Night crowd to date, as guests had an opportunity to socialize and pose for photographs with Rangers players, who were easily accessible throughout the evening.
Players like Ryan Hollweg, Michael Nylander, Jason Ward, Colton Orr and Marek Malik worked their tables for well over an hour and were among the evening's most popular dealers.
In addition to the gaming tables, funds were raised through a silent auction of Rangers memorabilia, the sale of "mystery" gift bags, and a "money wheel" that attendees could spin for the opportunity to win autographed sticks and photos.
At the end of the night, guests traded in their chips for raffle tickets used in a drawing for eight game-worn Rangers jerseys, all from the Jan. 12 Messier Night game against Edmonton. Each jersey was autographed by its wearer -- a group that included Marcel Hossa, Hollweg, Darius Kasparaitis, Nylander, Orr, Tom Poti, Steve Rucchin and Martin Rucinsky.
Perhaps the evening's biggest highlight was the live auction hosted by Rangers television broadcaster Sam Rosen, whose notable talent as an auctioneer might be overshadowed only by his gift for hockey play-by-play.
Three popular jerseys set the tone for one of the most successful live auctions in team history. The most coveted item was a replica Team Sweden jersey, signed by Lundqvist. It sold for $5,000, and the winner was invited to pose for a photo with Lundqvist while wearing the gold medal around his own neck.
The two other jerseys that drew intense bidding were were Jaromir Jagr's signed No. 68 and a signed Mark Messier No. 11.
Other prizes auctioned off Tuesday night were a chance to have a photo taken on center ice at MSG, an in-game visit to the broadcasting booth with Rosen and John Davidson, a ride on the Zamboni, a day as the Rangers' honorary stick boy or girl, and a dinner/private skate with a former Rangers player. Auction prizes also included tickets to Rangers games.