For one night, the players and their fans put the wins and losses of the hockey season aside. Although hockey is what drives them and unites them in a common interest, it isn't the only thing, and that was evident Monday night.
It is rare when people can mingle and chat with their favorite athletes in a fun party setting, enjoy a delicious catered meal, bid on some outstanding sports memorabilia, visit an excellent car dealership, partake in some friendly game of poker or roulette, and donate money to a worthy cause all at the same time.
That is exactly what Stars fans had the opportunity to do at Park Place Lexus in Grapevine as part of the 9th Annual Park Place Dealership/Dallas Stars Casino Night.
With Stars players serving as dealers, roulette wheel spinners or even cheerleaders, the fans enjoyed a night of fun casino games, silent auctions and much more, with all the proceeds benefiting the Dallas Stars Foundation. Overall, the event grossed over $125,000 Monday night.
The Dallas Stars Foundation provides support to children in the Metroplex, assisting various non-profit organizations, particularly those focusing on children's charities, through philanthropic grants, scholarships and youth hockey advancement. Since its inception, the Foundation has raised over $2 million to help enrich the lives of countless kids in the community.
As for the Park Place Lexus facility where the event was held, if you'd shopped for a car there recently, you might not have recognized it. For example, the new car showroom looked completely different filled with tons of amazing items of autographed memorabilia for the silent auction, not to mention the MT Combo Band, which entertained everyone with their hip brand of jazz.
The casino portion of the evening took place in the service drive-up area, and the mobile kitchen area out front, featuring food catered by Pei Wei, usually has a variety of new car models to welcome visitors.
"Park Place likes this event, because it brings season ticket owners, suite owners, into our dealership, and we hope that they have a good experience," noted Christy Coltrin, marketing director for Park Place Dealership. "We think it's pretty unique to have an up-close, personal experience with the Dallas Stars off the ice. This is a non-sporting event, and it kind of gets them out of their element and relates them with their fans.
"We think that will be a meaningful experience, and that's what we really want them to have at Park Place, whether it's Casino Night, whether it's purchasing a car, servicing a car - coming in here, we'd like them to have a nice experience."
There's no question that the many elegantly-dressed patrons who attended, with most women in formal gowns and men in suits, were greatly enjoying themselves. How often does one get the chance to play blackjack with a guy like Mike Ribeiro dealing? Or play roulette with play-by-play announcer Ralph Strangis spinning the wheel?
"It's the best, we look forward to it all season long," said season-ticket holder Terri Tiedt. "I have friends in other markets who are huge hockey fans, who are jealous of me because they never have opportunities like this. I don't know of any other hockey club that does something like this. And the best part is, it raises money for the Foundation. It's a great evening out, and it's a great chance to be at a party with your hockey heroes."
With players mingling in an atmosphere where they can be just normal people, some fans were impressed with just how easy-going and personable the Stars were.
"These guys are great, just easy-going, real likable and friendly," said Chris Powell, another season-ticket holder who spent time with Mike Modano manning the craps table. "You hear about how guys are from other sports, but these are just regular guys. That's the best part about hockey. The guys are really nice, just like the rest of us."
It's not just the fans that enjoy the interaction, but the players themselves, not to mention coaching staff and front-office personnel.
"I always look at hockey fans as very passionate, just like the players are," Stars coach Dave Tippett said in-between dealing hands of blackjack. "And it's nights like this, when you get to mingle, be yourself a little more, and not so much high-intensity action - it's casual, everybody enjoys themselves. It's a good time."
"We can be way more casual than normal, and that's really what you want out of it," goaltender Marty Turco added. "You get all dressed up and it's elegant, but at the end of the night, it's all about conversing and talking and being normal, which for us hockey players seems easy, that's who we are, but people get to see a different side of us on Casino Night."
In fact, as much as the fans look forward to the annual event, so do the players themselves.
"I love it," winger Steve Ott said. "This is a fun night to get away from the rink and the atmosphere of hockey and come and celebrate with our fans and raise a lot of money for our charity and the Dallas Stars Foundation and have a nice evening at Park Place."
"To be honest, the Casino Night is actually one of the most fun nights of the year for us," Turco said. "The mingling atmosphere with the fun festivities, everyone's here to have a good time, let loose, relax, dress up - it's fun. It's really special, unique. Park Place and the Dallas Stars Foundation have done a great job collectively."
Some of the players also enjoy the challenge of putting themselves in a different environment than they're used to.
"A lot of us, it's been a while since we've had to really use our brain a whole lot," captain Brenden Morrow said. "For me, just to count the blackjack and make it fun for the fans and not have them sitting around for 20 minutes while I try and count them, it's a bit of a test for ourselves. But we all enjoy it, and being able to mingle around with them, it's kind of neat."
In addition to the greatness of having Morrow tell you a king and an ace equals 21, the silent auction was a big attraction, with many impressive items up for grabs. Some of the highlights included use of a suite at the American Airlines Center for an upcoming Stars game, a Stars' game experience including four tickets, a tour of the locker room and press box and an overnight stay at the W Hotel, and many unbelievable sports items.
There were signed NHL All-Star jerseys of Stars Philippe Boucher and Turco, not to mention Sidney Crosby, Alex Ovechkin, former Star Bill Guerin, Joe Sakic, Joe Thornton, Roberto Luongo, and Teemu Selanne, to name a few. There was also an autographed Gordie Howe Red Wings jersey, signed and framed sticks from Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux, and a 1980 U.S. Olympic team jersey signed by all the players.
Items from other sports included a New York Jets football helmet signed by all the members of the 1969 Super Bowl II champions including Joe Namath, an autographed Peyton Manning Indianapolis Colts jersey, a signed Michael Young Texas Rangers jersey and a basketball signed by all the current Dallas Mavericks.
Park Place Dealerships also provided a weekend's use of a Mercedes for fans to bid on, not to mention the enjoyment of a Maserati for a weekend in a separate raffle contest, and there was even a Bilateral Custom LASIK procedure auctioned off, courtesy of Cornea Associates of Texas.
In another area of the vast, luxurious dealership, players sat at office desks and autographed photos (or whatever fans brought to them) and posed for pictures. It was truly an enjoyable evening.
"This is a good event," said Stars winger Matthew Barnaby. "I think any time you have a chance to make a difference and raise money for a good Foundation, it's very exciting to us. An event like this is just nothing but pleasure for us. We get to meet the people that come out and watch us play and pay our salaries, and I think it's a good chance, a great night the way they do it, to raise money for a great cause."
Despite the incredible generosity and hard work put forth by Park Place Dealerships in hosting the event, Christy Coltrin, their marketing director, wanted to emphasize just how important it was that the money was raised to aid the efforts of The Dallas Stars Foundation.
"I think that could even have a higher profile," she said of the fact that the Foundation is the ultimate beneficiary of the night's activities. "It's very celebrity-laden in terms of bringing people in, but I hope when they get here, they get the message. The Foundation is really impactful to a lot of people. I know what they do, but I'd like to see the community at large more aware of it, and I hope that this venue can become a place where people become more familiar with the Foundation's work."