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Wings put on poker tournament for charity

by Craig Peterson / Detroit Red Wings

Red Wings center Riley Sheahan sat down at a poker table for the first time ever at Motor City Casino to participate in a charity tournament to raise funds for the Detroit Red Wings Foundation, playing alongside teammates and fans. (Photo by Craig Peterson/Detroit Red Wings)

DETROIT — Shuffle up and deal.

On Monday, nine Red Wings shared their competitive spirit with 108 participating fans in a charity poker tournament at the Motor City Casino with benefits going to the Detroit Red Wings Foundation.

For a $400 donation, fans were treated to a strolling dinner reception with the Wings players in Sound Board before claiming a seat in the Texas Hold’Em tournament in the casino’s Poker Room. Each participant got an overnight room compliments of Motor City Casino Hotel as well as a parting gift and the top 10 finishers walked away with a variety of prizes. The biggest prize for Jason Bauman, 28, from Farmington Hills, Mich., was just getting to interact with some of his favorite players.

“It’s all about the experience,” he said. “It’s not about whether or not you’re the best poker player because it’s all in the cards. Whatever comes, comes. Just play your cards right and see what happens.”

First place in the tournament won a trip for two on Red Bird III during the 2015-16 preseason and second place received a suite for a Wings home game during the 2015-16 regular season. Third place received four tickets to an upcoming home game and fourth through 10th place received autographed, game-used hockey sticks.

Bragging rights were on the line for the Wings as well, as last year’s top finisher among players, Brendan Smith, looked to defend his title against Joakim Andersson, Danny DeKeyser, Jonas Gustavsson, Jakub Kindl, Drew Miller, Gustav Nyquist, Riley Sheahan and Tomas Tatar.

“Getting to play against the fans is cool because they get to see the competition level you’ve got and it opens you up in a different way,” Smith said. “They get to see you in that sense and we get to see our fans.”

Jeff Kropschot made the trip from St. Louis to participate in the tournament, but admittedly wasn’t much of a poker player. A transplant Wings fan living in an opposing team’s town, Kropschot enjoys harassing Blues fans back in his adopted home. Originally from East Lansing, Mich., Kropschot said an opportunity to interact with some of the players on his favorite team was too good to pass up.

“What a friendly bunch of guys,” Kropschot said. “They’ve got a busy schedule and busy lives so to take time out of their schedule to come down here and share some time with the fans, I think that’s a great thing.”

One of the younger contestants in the tournament, 23-year-old Sheahan was new to the flashing lights and chiming bells of a casino floor.

“I’ve never played a game of poker in my life,” Sheahan said. “Not once.”

Despite a lack of experience, Sheahan said he knew the basics of the game and was going to act confident with a strong poker face. That was enough to avoid being the first player bounced from the tournament, as Miller was eliminated just 20 minutes after the event began.

The event lasted four hours and to none of his teammates surprise, Tatar — whose brother, Tibor, is a professional poker player — was the last Wings player standing, claiming bragging rights in the locker room. For Sheahan, Smith and the rest of the group, it wasn’t about who was big stack at the end of the night but more about being all in with the fans to raise money for a good cause.

“It’s a great way, actually,” Smith said. “I think when you can get away and do something different than the normal stand up and talk to people and do autographs. I think this is like you’re more interacting with the fans and it’s cool when you do things like that.”

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