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Fans, players enjoy 10th Annual Casino Night

by John Tranchina / Dallas Stars

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From the ice of the arena to the ice outside, hockey fans and players alike had the chance to forget the grind and pressures of the ongoing season and focus on something a little more enjoyable - poker! Yes, Thursday night was the 10th Annual Dallas Stars/Park Place Dealerships Casino Night, where Stars players and coaches acted as dealers and had the rare opportunity to interact face-to-face with their fervent fan base.

Held this year at the beautiful and luxurious Park Place Motorcars Dallas facility on Lemmon Road near Love Field, the Casino Night event was once again a huge success, with more than 350 attendees raising over $160,000 to benefit the Dallas Stars Foundation. 

“We are extremely pleased with this year’s Casino Night,” stated Carla Rosenberg, executive director of the Dallas Stars Foundation. “Despite the inclement Texas weather, our team and fans turned out in usual Dallas Stars fashion to support us and help us achieve our mission of raising money to aid various children’s charities and programs in the community.”

Over the years, the Dallas Stars have seen this event grow in attendees, sponsorship support and overall success, which have directly contributed to an increase in funds raised for the Dallas Stars Foundation and the facilitation of hundreds of thousands of distributed grant dollars to various local non-profit organizations, as well as subsidies for educational and grassroots hockey programs in the Dallas/Fort Worth community.

“Park Place has been so gracious to allow us to infiltrate their dealership year after year to host this event in high style,” continued Rosenberg, “when you take that and add on new incredible partners such as Dallas Fish Market, Capital One and Modern Luxury Dallas, it’s the best recipe for success and a major factor in this year’s event being the best Casino Night we’ve ever had.”

Fans who did brave the elements had the opportunity to mingle with their favorite players, coaches and management (for example, co-General Manager Brett Hull was very visible) while participating in their favorite casino games like blackjack, roulette, craps, slot machines and even Texas Hold’em (this is Texas, after all).

Dallas Fish Market wowed guests with a live sushi rolling station and passed noshes of Alaskan king crab cakes, beef tataki skewers and jumbo, succulent shrimp. If that wasn’t enough to satisfy, Chef Randy Morgan whipped up beautiful carving stations laden with garlic and rosemary rubbed filet tenderloin, citrus marinated chicken, and unforgettable puff pastry wrapped Scottish salmon with all the accoutrements and side dishes imaginable. Guests topped off dinner with sweet sensations from Wendy Krispin Catering.

Perhaps the most impressive display of the night, however, belonged to David Magee, described as a sleight-of-hand artist and professional card technician. He stunned many observers and left the rest speechless (Stars personnel and fans alike) with his unbelievable card manipulations and other maneuvers. He even showed how some of them were done, particularly the coin tricks, but that almost made it more impressive; you still couldn’t believe exactly what he was doing, even as he explained it.

Overall, both players and fans enjoyed a wonderful experience. 

“It’s great to be here and see all the smiling fans,” noted Stars’ leading scorer Mike Ribeiro, who enjoyed dealing blackjack among other activities. “Hopefully, we can raise more money this year than last year. It’s just great to be here and see everyone smiling. I’m enjoying myself right now.”

“It’s a lot of fun to figure out that they’re kind of normal guys, and be able to interact with them,” added Stars fan Erin Bolen, who played blackjack at tables with Mike Modano and then Sergei Zubov dealing. “It’s not just watching, it’s not just autograph seeking, but to really interact. I think that’s the coolest part, really. It’s a chance to hang out with a bunch of fun people.”

For the Park Place Motorcars Dealership itself, the fact that they had to move cars out of the showrooms and basically transform a working dealership into a casino to accommodate the event was far from a burden - it was welcomed.

“This is a great event, we really enjoy it,” said Robert Morris, the General Manager of Park Place Motorcars Dallas. “This event gets spread out to all our dealership groups, we get a lot of different clients come here, a lot of different fans, so we all have a great time.

“It’s great for us, because we’re really involved in foundations and charities, we really like to give back. We’re involved in the Texas Rangers’ charities also, and several different areas. It’s the children, raising money for the kids, that’s what the Foundation is all about, so our company as a whole, we’re really involved in the community, so that’s what we like to do.”

“Obviously, the Dallas Stars are a really great organization, so for Park Place Dealerships to be selected to have this event in their own dealership is really fantastic for us,” added Carolyn Alvey, spokesperson for Park Place Dealerships. “We get the Dallas Stars, the coaches - they’re all here, they mix and mingle with not only their fans, but our client base. They love the opportunity to be here around these really cool cars. And a lot of the Dallas Stars, of course, are our clients, so they’re in a relaxed setting, they know the setting. The fans have a fabulous time, so it’s really fun for everybody.”

Clearly, though, the draw for the fans was the chance to meet and talk to the players in a relaxed setting that allowed for a little more opportunity for actual conversation.

For fan Sharon Washburn, playing hands of blackjack with Brett Hull dealing was just as exciting.

“That was pretty awesome, to have cards dealt by Brett Hull!” she said.

Avid fan Helen Harrison, a local elementary school teacher who uses hockey to help make learning math more interesting, was overheard raving about her experience taking a picture with Modano in the Mercedes, where she worked up the nerve to actually talk to him after several previous situations where she said nothing upon getting his autograph.

“I finally spoke to Mike Modano, because usually I freeze up,” she reported. “I’m just happy, I spoke to him, I always freak out.”

 That just illustrates part of the beauty of this type of event - it breaks down the barriers between athlete and spectator and allows all of them to co-exist as regular people, and that’s what both parties liked the most about it.

“It’s a little bit different, but it’s a lot of fun,” Hagman said. “It’s more fun dealing cards and talking with people that way than just walking around and just randomly going to tables. It’s a fun idea.”

“It’s different,” added associate coach Rick Wilson, who was observed playing roulette not long after he was a dealer at another table. “Every year, it’s very enjoyable to come out and meet the people, and it’s such a worthy cause, people just have a fun time. And the big thing is, they get a chance to see everyone in a whole different environment, and probably engage in conversation in a much more relaxed (situation), just have some fun. There’s a lot of good conversation.” 

For recently-acquired center Brad Richards, who joined the Stars from Tampa Bay last week in a trade, it was his first chance to meet his new fans and continue the ongoing process of assimilating into his new surroundings here.

“It’s the first night for me out in the public like this,” Richards noted. “Obviously, it’s good to interact with your new fans in a new city, a great opportunity to meet the people that are supporting us. They’re just welcoming me to Dallas, happy to have me, people just want to say hi. It’s going to take awhile, but this is a good step, a big event like this.”

Meanwhile, in the auction room, some really fantastic items of memorabilia were up for grabs, including autographed jerseys from Stars such as Ribeiro, captain Brenden Morrow, Richards, Zubov, center Stu Barnes and even one for former Star Hull, not to mention a Team USA Modano jersey, plus All-Star jerseys for Pittsburgh star Sidney Crosby and Washington sensation Alexander Ovechkin as well as a Red Wings Gordie Howe jersey.

There were also signed sticks used by goaltender Marty Turco, winger Jere Lehtinen, Ribeiro, Daley, Barnes and Steve Ott, signed pucks from every Star on the roster, and a ‘Canadian road experience’ that included round-trip airfare to Vancouver, two nights in a hotel and tickets to an upcoming Stars-Canucks game.

Additionally, there were autographed football helmets from Peyton Manning and Cowboys’ safety Roy Williams, autographed jerseys from Brett Favre and Tony Romo, an autographed football signed by the 2007 Dallas Cowboys, autographed guitars from the Eagles (with each band member on it), Toby Keith and even Hannah Montana! 

After the silent auction, several other things were auctioned off live, as play-by-play man Ralph Strangis and Razor emceed the festivities. The most sought-after item of the night was a trip with the team (on their new plane) to Phoenix, including accommodations and tickets to the Stars-Coyotes game on April 3, which fetched the highest bid of the evening at $12,000 in the live auction. Also in high demand was a bowling outing with Morrow, which went for $5,000.

“The majority of the time we’re with our fans, it’s at the American Airlines Center and we’re not thinking about much except just playing hockey,” Turco said. “We hear them, we get lifted from them, the energy that they bring to the building, but tonight, it’s a great night to interact with them. For them to spend their money to come here for our Foundation, to see us and then, to boot, all of us have a great time together, you can’t really beat it.” 

In the end, it was a fun time where two groups could relate on a new level and it was all for a good cause.

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