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The Rangers held their annual Casino Night, their grandest fund-raising event of the year, on Thursday, Feb. 21 in support of the Garden of Dreams Foundation. The event at New York's Gotham Hall brought Rangers players, alumni and fans together for a night of casino-style gaming, with all net proceeds going to help the Foundation fulfill its mission of "making dreams come true for kids in crisis".
More than 600 people attended the event, which raised approximately $270,000 for Garden of Dreams.
"There's a bigger, more important game we play at the end of the day, and helping out an organization like the Garden of Dreams is certainly more important than a hockey game," said Rangers head coach Tom Renney. "People are in need, and especially a group like the Garden of Dreams which is an unbelievable initiative, it's not an obligation, it's an honor for every one of us to be here and have this opportunity."
With every member of the Rangers decked out head to toe in a tuxedo, ranging from Ryan Hollweg in an all-white number to captain Jaromir Jagr in a classic black tux, each player either dealt or played side-by-side with fans. Hundreds of fans participated in games such as poker, blackjack, craps and roulette, and by the end of the night, fans had met their heroes, raised money for charity and had a great time.
"We love interacting with the fans," said Renney. "It's one of those events where we're playing cards together, doing things around here and chatting in a real casual environment where you can get into a conversation with somebody, and not just sort of a superficial two-minute talk. You can talk about whatever you want and I think we all enjoy that."
Fans agreed that the unique experience of Casino Night was a great thrill.
"This has just been tremendous," said Dave, a 44-year old fan in attendance. "It's worth every penny, especially knowing it goes to those in need. To be able to play roulette with Scott Gomez, I mean, that's a pretty special thing. I'm having a lot of fun."
While the fans enjoy the opportunity to mingle with their heroes, the Rangers also relish the opportunity to rub elbows with their biggest supporters.
"I think that as much as you think the fans enjoy events like this, the players do equally as much," said Rangers legend Adam Graves, whose No. 9 will be retired next season. "You get an opportunity to meet people, and that's what life's all about; interacting and meeting people. The great privilege of being an athlete in New York and wearing the red, white and blue is that you have these opportunities. You need to take advantage of it. The fans are having a lot of fun and it's certainly a two-way street."
Rangers center Chris Drury, making his first Casino night appearance after joining the team as a free agent last summer, said he had a blast playing blackjack alongside the Rangers faithful.
"It's great to be here and interact with the fans and obviously raise money for the Garden of Dreams," said Drury. "They do everything first-class here and its nice to be a part of it."
Rookie Brandon Dubinsky
, who has been flourishing on the ice of late, found he also had a knack for the game of craps.
"I've had luck on my side lately," said Dubinsky, who has scored five points in the past three games. "I started with $100 in playing chips, played craps and now have over 5,000 so things are looking up for me."
One of the most popular players of the evening was Jason Strudwick, sporting his new mustache. Fan after fan came up to Strudwick to offer their opinion on his unique facial hair.
"It's been a hit," he said. "Everyone's giving me good reviews. I thought I'd get slammed for it but so far it's been popular!"
At the end of the night, Rangers TV broadcaster Sam Rosen served as auctioneer for a live auction which combined with an earlier silent auction to raise over $47,800 for the Garden of Dreams Foundation.
Prizes in the live auction included a road trip with the team for the 2008-09 season, a Post-Game Locker Room Visit, and a VIP experience where two guests watch the morning skate at MSG Training Center, have lunch with Adam Graves and receive two club level seat. Meanwhile, in the silent auction, a "Brian Leetch Package" went for $1,600, an "Adam Graves Package" went for $1,750, lunch with Graves went for $2,500 and a Stick Kid Experience went for $2,100.