Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, and Joey Bishop have nothing on this Rat Pack (author's original photo).
Last weekend I attended the Hurricanes Casino Night and Wine Tasting, benefitting the Kids ‘N Community Foundation. Doug Warf, Kids ‘N Community Executive Director, always does an excellent job promoting and recapping the event, but for those interested in a fan’s perspective I thought it might be fun to share my experiences from the evening.
Casino Night is the primary fundraiser for K&C and it’s a lavish production, from the theme and décor (this year’s theme was the Wild, Wild West), to the casino games hosted by Hurricanes players, and to the amazing and one-of-a-kind auction items available for bid.
My friends and I met up outside the RBC Center. After registering and getting bidder numbers and Stormy Cash, off we went, past the "Wanted" posters and marshals and saloon girls (ie. Ron the Ref, Big Mike, and the Storm Squad), to the casino floor.
As we grabbed a fine glass of wine from one of the many local wine merchants, we were approached by a nice young man with outstretched hand who said, "Hi, I’m Zach, welcome!" After introducing ourselves (and telling him we knew who he was), we had a great conversation with Zach Boychuk and were soon joined by Pat Dwyer and Justin Peters. The enthusiasm in their voices was infectious as they talked about their journeys up to the "big club", the travel, the unknowns as to the tenure of their call of duty (although Dwyer has now graduated to a more permanent residence here), and the excitement about proving themselves at the NHL level. Apparently the travel from Albany is rather grueling, and the consensus was that in the future Charlotte will be much more convenient for traveling between rosters (although they all hope those days will be behind them next season).
As the first shift of players was getting called to the casino tables, I decided to check out the silent auction table, which was headlined by the player baskets. I was really impressed with the time and generosity that the players invest in their unique creations, offering a personal (and sometimes amusing) glimpse into their individual personalities. Brian Pothier’s basket was full of items from his home state of Massachusetts, including a signed Celtics shirt, a Red Sox hat, and a copy of "Good Will Hunting". Ray Whitney’s basket included a chauffeured trip in one of Ray’s muscle cars to a tour of the Ingram Porsche Museum in Durham. The baskets of the four Olympians featured various items from Vancouver. Erik Cole’s "basket" wasn’t even a basket at all; it was a child’s bedroom set-up complete with a bed, a 2006 Stanley Cup wall mural, and a team-signed Hurricanes logo Fathead.
Tim Gleason’s basket includes Team USA gloves from the Vancouver Olympics (author's original photo).
By this time the first round of casino games was in full gear. While Cam Ward and Rod Brind’Amour managed crowds at the blackjack tables, Chad LaRose and his table were quite boisterous playing Texas Hold’em. I took a few photos with the players who weren’t on duty, and had the pleasure of speaking with Joni Pitkanen about his Olympic experience. His eyes and smile lit up as he talked about playing with his good friends on Team Finland, and he was grateful for the opportunity to play in the bronze medal game after sitting out the game prior. He said that he really didn’t have much of a chance to visit the other Olympic events outside of hockey because from the time they arrived they were in meetings and practices and games, not leaving a lot of time for other activities.
Not one to pass up a chance to talk to my favorite Hurricane, as the players switched shifts at the tables I spent a few minutes with Tuomo Ruutu. We talked briefly about the Olympics, but spent more time talking about the season. I took the opportunity to tell him (along with anyone who had time to listen) that I have never been prouder to be a fan of this team than I am this year, especially to watch the way the team has battled through its adversity from earlier in the season. He admitted that it had been a hard road for them, but praised the support the team received from the fans. He said that in most any other market they would have been booed in the arena or fans would just stop coming to the games, but here they really felt that the fans were always behind them and never gave up on them and it helped pull them through tough times. He’s very excited about starting next season in his home country and a little astounded at the number of fans that plan to travel to Helsinki, and laughed when he said that the pressure will be on to play well and put on a good show for all the fans.
The casino action got louder as the event continued into the evening, with competition between the tables (especially Ray Whitney and Erik Cole) to determine which table was having the most fun. Some friends in my group were at Manny Legace’s roulette table, and offered up their last Stormy Cash to Ron Francis, who promptly bet it all on the number 10 and won. I spent a few minutes with Tom Barrasso, who I’d never met but always wanted to (my husband was in the building when he hoisted the Stanley Cup in Chicago in 1992). I also met Paul Maurice and Jim Rutherford. I shared my feelings of pride in the team and season with them as well, and I felt they were sincerely appreciative of my comments. Zach Boychuk stopped back by to check in with us again, just to make sure we were all still having a good time. A few more photo ops and it was time to close down the casino and cash out.
Jussi Jokinen, Tuomo Ruutu, and Joni Pitkanen watch as fans bid for the chance to play against them in a table tennis tournament (author's original photo).
Master of Ceremonies extraordinaire John Forslund kicked off the last event of the evening, the live auction and raffle. Here was the chance for the really high rollers to bid on some unbelievably amazing items and events, including a day in the coaches’ shoes, a chance to be in the team photo, dinner with the Olympians, and a NASCAR driving experience. Canes Country’s own Raccoon Fink and Cyn4Canes walked away with a team try-out. I was tempted by the table tennis tournament against the Finns, but the bidding on that item was a little too extravagant for my means. The highlight of the auction, a fly-away trip with the team, had quite some competition before it was snagged by a lucky bidder.
Needless to say this event was an absolute pleasure to attend, and I'll definitely be back next year. To a person, the organization could not have been more gracious and attentive to all who participated. It was a fantastic evening for a great cause.