Guests pack Gotham Hall for annual Garden of Dreams fund-raiser
By Dan David, newyorkrangers.com
Enver Lisin, the Rangers’ speedy 23-year-old Russian winger who joined the team last summer, was one of several Blueshirts who got to experience their first Casino Night event on Monday at New York’s Gotham Hall.
Wearing a sporty white tuxedo jacket, Lisin was also one of the more creatively dressed Rangers at the annual event to benefit the Garden of Dreams Foundation.
“I think the best-dressed player here tonight is Aaron Voros,” the Moscow native said as he looked around the crowded room. “But he already had his own tuxedo. I rented mine for tonight, and I guess I decided that I wanted to feel like the captain of a cruise ship.”
Lisin’s white jacket -- and another one worn by Donald Brashear – were eye-catching, but both paled in comparison to the night’s most statement-making attire. Rangers rookie defenseman Michael Del Zotto went all out at Gotham Hall, sporting an entirely white tux with white shoes that stirred memories of the film Saturday Night Fever.
“I'm having a blast,” said Del Zotto. “There are a lot of good fans here who are pretty appreciative and have had some kind words. It's nice to give back and put a smile on their face. They have all been awesome. They have had great things to say about me and tell me they're happy I'm here. It makes everything a lot better and makes me feel more comfortable.”
The outstanding outfits were just one facet of a remarkable Casino Night 2010, presented by OppenheimerFunds. It was yet another festive evening in which Rangers players and fans came together to support a charity that helps children in crisis throughout the New York City area.
The team’s annual fund-raiser for Garden of Dreams was a success on all fronts, as hundreds packed Gotham Hall for a fun-filled night of gaming, silent and live auctions, and the opportunity for some of the most True Blue guests around to meet and have their photos taken with all of the Rangers players, coaches and executives, after they were formally introduced to the entire audience by longtime Rangers broadcaster Sam Rosen.
Casino Night has been a Rangers tradition since the 1999-00 season, ad each year since the launch of Garden of Dreams in the fall of 2006, it has been the team’s single biggest fund-raising event on GDF’s behalf. Monday night was no exception, as all net proceeds went straight to Foundation, including more than $30,000 raised in a dramatic live auction conducted by Rosen.
One of the most appreciative Rangers on Monday was goaltender Henrik Lundqvist, who was taking part in his fifth Casino Night and his first since becoming an official Garden of Dreams spokesperson last year.
“I'm so proud to be a part of Garden of Dreams and that they wanted me as a spokesperson,” said Lundqvist. “It feels really good, and it's always fun to meet so many fans who have been around for such a long time, but I guess I feel a little more responsibility to make sure everybody has a good time now.”
Lundqvist made both the fans and GDF a winner on Monday, particularly when it came to the grand finale of the live auction. An autographed Lundqvist Swedish Olympic jersey, presented to the winner by Lundqvist himself, went for $5,250 on the heels of another intense bidding for Marian Gaborik’s signed Team Slovakia Olympic jersey, which brought in another $4,500 for the Foundation.
“This is a beautiful thing,” said Lisin. “I think it's a great night for the fans and a great way to help a charity like Garden of Dreams.”
Lundqvist was so appreciative of the guests’ generosity on Monday that he closed the evening with a personal message to the crowd.
“I want to give a big thank you for coming out tonight,” he said at the podium amid scattered “Hen-rik, Hen-rik” chants. “I hope you all had a good time. As a player, I really did, and as you know, it was for a great cause.”
Other big prizes in the live auction included a day at the Madison Square Garden Training Center with Rangers great Adam Graves, autographed Team USA jerseys from Rangers captain Chris Drury and alternate captain Ryan Callahan, an in-game visit with Rosen and Joe Micheletti at the MSG broadcast booth, a golf game with Rangers legend and all-time scoring leader Rod Gilbert, and a postgame trip to the Rangers locker room.
The live auction was one of several fund-raising efforts throughout Gotham Hall on Monday. A silent auction raised thousands more dollars and featured two wildly popular items – the jersey Mike Richter wore for the Feb. 3, 2009, Adam Graves Night ceremony and framed USA Hockey collage featuring the autographs of every player from the 1960 and 1980 Olympic gold medal men’s teams, plus the entire roster of the 1998 U.S. women’s team that won gold in Nagano.
Another popular table displayed a set of baskets containing the “favorite things” of five Rangers players, as selected by the players’ spouses and girlfriends. The table featured baskets for Lundqvist, Callahan, Wade Redden, Dan Girardi and Voros. Items in the baskets ranged from a pair of tennis rackets in the Lundqvist basket to a bag of beef jerky in Girardi’s.
“It's a good night and a lot of fun,” said Rangers defenseman Marc Staal, who was attending his third Casino Night. “It's also great for everyone to get dressed up and have a nice night out as a team with our girlfriends and wives.”
The well-dressed players were readily available to meet and greet the fans. Many Blueshirts served as dealers at the gaming tables, and when they weren’t handling the cards, they were posing for countless pictures that should be appearing regularly on Blueshirts United and other social network sites for months to come.
The night was so grand, in fact, that even recent Boston University graduate Matt Gilroy and recent Boston College grad Brian Boyle hardly missed watching their schools’ clash in college hockey’s Beanpot Tournament championship, although Boyle was particularly pleased to learn that Boston College’s 4-3 victory would give him the bragging rights.
Gilroy and Boyle didn’t have much time to talk, since players were just as likely to be spotted with guests as with each other on Monday night.
“They do such a nice job of this at Gotham Hall,” said Voros. “It's a good time, and I’ve already met a couple of good friends as a result of this event.”
For more information on the Garden of Dreams Foundation, visit the foundation’s web site at www.gardenofdreamsfoundation.org.
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