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Fans get close to the Red Wings at annual Toast of Hockeytown

Unique event is special for fans and players, all supporting a great cause

by Dana Wakiji @Dwakiji /

DETROIT -- Normally when Detroit Red Wings fans come to Little Caesars Arena, there is glass or netting separating them from their favorite players.

But at the annual Toast of Hockeytown event, there is nothing keeping them apart.

That was again the case Tuesday night as Little Caesars Arena hosted the 19th annual Toast of Hockeytown.

"It's really special because they get to see us up close and personal," goaltender Jimmy Howard said. "Usually it feels like we're kind of in a fish bowl but tonight we're open to the fans. It's a great event, it raises a lot for the Red Wings Foundation and for the Ilitch Charities so it's a fun event to be a part of."

Howard sat at a table and greeted fans with another veteran, Thomas Vanek, who also participated in this event when he was with the Wings for part of the 2016-17 season.

"This event is fun because it's inside the rink, usually we're out here skating and now we're sitting here interacting," Vanek said. "It's a cool event, they set it up really beautiful and it's fun."

Shaun Fagan of Hillsdale, attending his second Toast of Hockeytown, said there's nothing quite like it.

"Personally, doing it twice, this is the only experience where I actually got to be face to face with the players, make jokes with them," Fagan said. You can tell your friends when you get back, 'Oh, I said this to Dylan Larkin.' It's awesome."

The ice is covered and there are beautifully decorated tables all around the perimeter of the surface where attendees can try wines, red and white, from around the world, craft beers, craft cocktails, local spirits and tastes from metro Detroit restaurants and vendors.

"Toast of Hockeytown is such a special event for our community," said Kevin Brown, director of community relations and the Detroit Red Wings Foundation. "It's really our Red Wings party of the year. To be able to interact with our entire team, all of our coaches, as well as the alumni, while enjoying food from restaurants around the area and drinks from around the world, we really love putting together Toast of Hockeytown each year for our fans."

Veteran Niklas Kronwall has attended many of these events and considers it one of the nicest things the players get to do.

"Just the fact that everybody's dressed up and they really put their nicest things on almost, it makes it very special," Kronwall said. "Everything, all the proceeds go to a great cause. So that helps a lot, too, of course."

There was a long line waiting of fans waiting to meet Larkin, who sat at a table with defenseman Danny DeKeyser, another Michigan native.

Tweet from @DetroitRedWings: The #ToastOfHockeytown is underway! 🥂 #LGRW

Janet Rowe of Woodhaven has been to many Toasts of Hockeytown and named Larkin as her current favorite player.

"When he first started, I just took to him and I was (a big fan) of Nick Lidstrom for years," Rowe said. "Then Dylan came on board. He's from Michigan. My daughter is a Michigan graduate as well."

In the middle of the ice surface was a dazzling array of silent auction items for people to bid on.

Among the items are concert tickets for Cher, Carrie Underwood and KISS, signed Wings pucks, skates and jerseys, special Tigers, Pistons and Lions prizes, as well as baskets filled with individual players' favorite things.

The Toast of Hockeytown veteran Rowe has had her fair share of winning bids.

"Last year I walked out with what, three baskets, I think? Three or four baskets," Rowe said. "(Dylan) Larkin's, Kronwall's and Athanasiou."

Rowe said when she wins a basket, she gives any bottles of wine to her friend, Robin Bush of Dearborn Heights.

Bush said she loves coming to the event every year.

"It's a great cause," Bush said. "Just the intimacy of the opportunity to meet with the players. You can truly see their commitment to the cause as well."

Tweet from @DetroitRedWings: What a night. 🤩🥂#ToastofHockeytown | #LGRW

First-time attendee Ryan Pastor of Livonia agreed with Bush about the intimacy of the event.

"I liked it, going around and meeting the different players is really nice because you see them on TV but you don't get to get to actually see them in person so that was pretty cool," Ryan Pastor said. "Just getting the hors d'oeuvres and stuff like that, that was cool. It's something you don't usually get to do. It's fun, it's a good experience."

Ryan Pastor was at Little Caesars Arena with his father, John. Both are big Wings fans.

"It's always nice to do things for charity," John Pastor said. "It's nice to be able to go into the locker room. We were at the Joe (Louis Arena) locker room. It's similar, a little bit nicer. We actually got old lockers from the old Joe and some chairs. Again, it's always nice to do something different."

Rookie Dennis Cholowski, just 10 days shy of his 21st birthday, was sipping water as he met with fans at his first Toast of Hockeytown.

"I certainly have never done anything like it, everybody milling around and the auction going, which is cool," Cholowski said. "Live band, that's cool, too. It's cool to have everybody out here, sign some autographs, take some pictures. It's just fun. It's what we're doing, we're having fun."

Fans also had the opportunity to go for unique live auction items with television play-by-play broadcaster Ken Daniels and radio play-by-play announcer Ken Kal soliciting bids.

Those items included a compete set of Red Wings game-used hockey sticks, Joe Louis Arena seats and mini stick collection, a private screening of "Tough Guy: The Bob Probert Story" at Little Caesars Arena, a trip to see a Broadway show and a Wings game in New York City, a trip to the 2019 NHL Draft and a chance to preview the draft with general manager Ken Holland and assistant to the general manager Kris Draper and a trip on the team plane, Red Bird III, for a road game during the 2019-20 season.

Even if you didn't win the trip on Red Bird III, you could still meet your favorite players and get your picture with them, which makes the Toast of Hockeytown such a special night.

Tweet from @DetroitRedWings: The good boys! #ToastOfHockeytown

"Just to support the team and the Foundation that it's for. We love the Wings," Rowe said. " They're just nice guys, down to earth, nice guys."

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