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Players and fans go "All In" at Charity Poker Tourney

by Nick Barnowski /

DETROIT - He bluffed when he should have called, but it was enough for Brendan Smith to be the last current Red Wing standing at the poker table on Monday night.

The defenseman joined nine current teammates and two Red Wings Alumni for the eighth annual MotorCity Casino Hotel's Charity Poker Tournament benefiting the Detroit Red Wings Foundation on Monday, Feb. 6.

 For a $400 donation, fans enjoyed a dinner reception with Red Wings players inside MotorCity Casino Hotel's Sound Board before grabbing their seats in the Poker Room to compete in the Texas Hold 'Em tournament. Prizes ranged from $5,000 cash for the tournament champion to autographed, game-used sticks by Red Wings players.

Former Red Wings defenseman and Hockey Hall of Famer Larry Murphy played his cards right and made it to the final table, while Smith, a veteran of the event, earned bragging rights by outlasting teammates Andreas Athanasiou, Riley Sheahan, Xavier Ouellet, Anthony Mantha, Darren Helm, Danny DeKeyser, Gustav Nyquist and Ryan Sproul.

"I really like this event, it's great to interact with our fans and take their chips," Smith said with a laugh. "It's nice to get away from the game and relax and hangout with our fans, because we don't have a job without them."

One of those fans, Washington, Mich., native Steve Heike, walked away as the tournament's grand-prize winner after outlasting the players and all 108 participating fans. Heike, who was feeding updates throughout the night to his son, Tyler, who lives in Cleveland, had played in the tournament before but said nothing could top the experience this year.

"It's unbelievable," said Heike, whose family has held Red Wings season tickets for more than 40 years, dating back to Olympia Stadium. "I was just happy I got Jimmy Howard's pads at the auction. It was an awesome experience."

Heike, who started at a table with Athanasiou and eventually knocked out four-time Stanley Cup Champion Darren McCarty and Murphy at the final table, said he enjoyed the down to earth nature of the event.

"I wanted to get pocket aces against Athanasiou so I could show him 'Double A,'" he said. "I think it's awesome that the Red Wings partake in such a great charitable event. I've played in it before and have been fortunate enough to meet a few of the guys in the past. They are great guys."

Sproul, who admitted he is far from poker shark, said competing on the table for the Detroit Red Wings Foundation was a nice change of pace from competing on the ice.

"It's a great event for us to meet our fans and hangout and compete with them," he said. "It's so big for the Foundation and it's nice to have our fans come out here and hangout with us. We appreciate everything the Foundation does, we love doing this stuff."

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