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Friday, March 1, 2013

A Goalie's Goals, On and Off the Ice



New York Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist will play guitar, have a pizza party and be an auctioneer if it means raising money for a good cause and the opportunity to hang out with local kids.

On Friday night, Mr. Lundqvist and his teammates will host a casino night to benefit the Garden of Dreams Foundation, a nonprofit that works with the New York-based Madison Square Garden Co. The annual event is a chance for fans to mix with players, bid on signed jerseys and gamble play money.

"Some guys will be standing by the blackjack tables, some talk to fans and take pictures," he says. "It's a fun event."

The Garden of Dreams Foundation primarily works with about 20 charities serving homeless, sick and underprivileged children. The organization hosts one-of-a-kind special events for kids and regularly draws on the roster of athletes that play for the Rangers and the New York Knicks, among other sports teams, performers and entertainers. Last year there were 500 such events.

Mr. Lundqvist has been the spokesman for the foundation since 2009. Last season, he raised $100,000 for the charity through various auctions, events and his "Crown Collection" clothing line.

A concert last year with tennis star and fellow sometimes musician, John McEnroe, raised some $35,000. Mr.
Lundqvist plays guitar with friends and he'd run into Mr. McEnroe a few times over the years. Finally, the two athletes got together and started "jamming," says Mr. Lundqvist. The concert is something that Mr. Lundqvist hopes to do again this year, but with the NHL's compressed playing season it has been tough to get everyone together, he admits.

The time that Mr. Lundqvist spends with kids—like accompanying children to special events, hosting a skating clinic or welcoming a child to a game—is now part of the joy of his job. When he was 19 or 20, being the celebrity felt a little different because "you grow up idolizing some players and suddenly you are in that spot," he says. "But you get used to it, obviously, and of course you feel some responsibility to be a good role model."

Plus, it is fun for him to get kids out on the ice. Many of the children who take part in Garden of Dreams events have never skated and aren't familiar with hockey. The events are an opportunity to introduce the sport to a new audience and enjoy watching little kids slide around and chase a puck. "It's like just a mask following the puck. It's great," he says.

Still, the major highlight for the kids isn't the skating time, the photos or the behind-the-scenes tour. "The highlight is probably when they get the gift bag," he says with a laugh. "They always love that."

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