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Wings and fans put on poker face

by Bill Roose / Detroit Red Wings
Carol Richardson at the table of the 2012 Red Wings Charity Poker Tournament. (Photo by Steve Galli)
DETROIT – For Carol Richardson, the Red Wings Charity Poker Tournament combines three of her passions in life.

“I love to play poker, I love to participate in charity events, and I love the Red Wings,” said Richardson, a senior account executive at Comcast Spotlight in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

On Wednesday, Richardson was among 108 fans that joined 23 Wings’ players for a large card party at the team’s fourth annual Texas Hold’em tournament at MotorCity Casino Hotel.

The sold-out event, which included a delectable strolling dinner in the hotel ballroom, raised $43,200 for the Detroit Red Wings Foundation. 

While Richardson didn’t win – again – the evening was still gratifying for the former Trenton resident as she rubbed elbows with some of her favorite professional athletes.

 “I haven’t fared very well as far as making it to the finals, but I keep trying,” she said. “I think the biggest thing is being able to sit at the table with the Wings and visit with them and see them at the strolling dinner. And my sister goes with me and she’s a huge fan, who is actually a season-ticket holder. She shares a season-ticket with some other people, so she takes me to some games and I take her to training camp and to the poker tournament.”

It was quite the exciting week so far for Richardson, who was at Tuesday’s game when the Wings set a new NHL record, winning their 21st straight home game. And it only got better for the Wings’ fan, who attends every home playoff game each spring.

But her best – and most-memorable moment – of the poker event occurred a few years ago when she was surprised by a few players.

Todd Bertuzzi and Jason Williams and Drew Miller sat down at our table where we were eating dinner,” Richardson said. “It was the first time that I ever interacted with Bertuzzi and he was so kind and such a gentleman. And when he got up to leave the table he came over and shook my hand and said, ‘Nice meeting you.’ It was his first year with the Wings and I had this totally different perception of him. Obviously, he’s worked out quite well for the Wings and I’m so happy to see that.

“You kind of feel like you know them, even though they wouldn’t know me. I just know that hockey players are more down-to-earth than other professional athletes, in my opinion. Hockey players just seem to have a sense of the community and they seem to be more approachable than a lot of people. The other players on other teams seem to be more aloof.”

The event is a way for the players to engage with fans in a comfortable and relaxing setting, share a meal and some laughs.

“I like this event because it’s not like the ones where we’re just sitting behind a table and saying, ‘Hello’ and signing a picture,” Jimmy Howard said. “Here you actually get to talk to the fans and they get to ask us questions. You get to interact a little bit more, which is nice.”

Prizes were awarded to the top 10 finishers, including the grand prize which was a trip for two on Red Bird III with the team during the 2012-13 pre-season. Second-place finisher received a suite to a 2012-13 regular-season home game, as well as a post-game meet and greet with a player. Third-place received four tickets to an upcoming home game and fourth through 10th place received an autographed game-used hockey stick.

Dan Kosinski checks out his cards at the 2012 Red Wings Charity Poker Tournament. (Photo by Steve Galli)
Richardson is one of 13 poker players to have played in all four Wings’ tournaments. So is Dan Kosinski, who was hoping to defend his 2011 poker championship.

“It was pretty crazy because actually the last hand of the tournament, I went in way behind in the hand,” Kosinski said. “I had a king, queen, and the other person had pocket aces and I ended up catching a straight on the turn. I couldn’t believe it for a few days after the tournament because I had never won a big tournament before, it was just an awesome experience last year.”

The 24-year-old engineer from Sterling Heights got hooked on poker for a few reasons, mainly because of the popularity of the sport and his competitiveness. “I like getting into other peoples’ heads,” he said.

The Wings’ players were just as pumped to meet and play against the fans. Rookie center Cory Emmerton even wrote on his Twitter account, ‘Players will take part in our annual Charity Poker Tournament @MotorCityCasino. I’m in it to win it!”

Well, Emmerton didn’t come close, but Howard, Joey MacDonald and Ian White made serious pushes as the lone Wings to hang around at the table the longest.

But Howard said Thursday that he felt awful about his success.

“I felt so bad,” he said. “I think I knocked out four people and I felt bad going in on crap and I was trying to give my chips away, and I ended up catching stuff on the river or on the flop. I just felt horrible. These people are trying to win a trip with us on the plane and here I am knocking them out.”

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