Over my tenure as a Ducks fan, I've been to five Casino Nights (1998, 1999, 2000, 2010 and 2012). The event has gone from a small event held on the 300 level of The Pond, to a slightly larger event at a hotel, to the carpet covered ice of the Honda Center. Of all of the Casino Nights I've been to, this year was - by far - the most fun.
With the exception of my first three Casino Nights, the event revolves a theme. In 2010 it was disco, in 2011 it was western, and this year it was white. (I'll be honest, up until the event, I was referring to it as the "Klan Rally".) The players are (un)willing participants being dressed up to fit the theme which usually involves some ridiculous costume. This year the players were allowed to wear whatever they wanted as long as it fit with the theme (only exception were white Vans that will be signed and auctioned off later). This freedom of uniform, I think, made the players more comfortable, which lead them to spend more time hanging out with the fans.
My highlights of the night were worth every dollar of the $100 ticket (bonus - it counts as a tax deduction).
I had my reservations about an all-white theme. It takes a special person to pull off all white. My pasty-white, see-through skin does not put me in that category. As the picture in the intro showed, I defied the theme by including a black motorcycle jacket over my white dress. My partner in crime for the evening, Tiffany, went a step further by showing her Ducks dedication by choosing a mostly orange dress. One attendee was so impressed by Tiffany's blatant disregard of the theme, that she had to take a picture of Tiff.
After entering Honda Center and getting your wristband to enter the party, attendees had to make the perilous descent down a section to where the ice normally is. Guys won't get this, but being a girl in 3 1/2 inch heels trying to walk down steep stairs without a railing is the scariest thing you'll ever do. I am naturally wobbly, but luckily I could latch on to Tiffany to keep my balance. Once reaching the bottom level, you enter through a massive white curtain and are greeted by this. (I'll apologize in advance for my poor iPhone photos.)
The main bar is at what would be center ice. Towards the back is the DJ, dance-floor, and these weird dancers covered in full body suits, a la the Green Men of Vancouver. The DJ was supposedly one of the "top 10 mixers" in the nation. I couldn't tell you his name, but he did his job well. The deal on drinks was pretty good, too. There were a couple brands of beers that were free and a signature drink called the "Blood Orange Cocktail" that was also free. Any liquor beyond that cost money. I stuck with the cocktail and was pleasantly surprised by how strong it was for free booze.
On the opposite side of the bar were sushi chefs. The food was fantastic. On top of the sushi, there were tables on the sides serving dinner. I had duck (ironic?) on a raisin bread and sage raviolis in brown butter. Tiffany had pork with brussels sprouts with bacon. She didn't eat the later, but I did and it was so good! I am ashamed of us for missing the dessert table. They had the ultimate lazy food - cake pops!
To the left side of the bar was one group of the gaming tables, and on the far left side, the VIP area for those who have more money than I do. For $500 and up, all they really got was an extra hour with the players before us plebeians showed up and a private area to keep them away from the riffraff. Not worth it, but it is for charity.
Aside from the gaming tables and the VIP area, there were silent auction items on the left side. Like usual there were signed jerseys and equipment, and then there were random items, like a four-hour life coaching session with some lady. Shocker, no one bid on that.
The only thing that brought me to that side of the room was Mr. Bruce Boudreau. He was one of the popular people of the night and rightfully so. He was talking with every fan that came up to greet him. It took me a couple minutes to finally get my time and the picture above with Bruce. Our conversation was silly. I told him how ecstatic I was that he came to Anaheim and he talked about how excited he was to be here. I jokingly asked how he was enjoying his first California winter compared to Washington, and he started talking about how no one back home feels bad for him that he only has jackets when only he needs a sweater to keep warm. He was Gabby being gabby. It was endearing.
Bruce was the highlight of the left side; however, we spent a majority of time on the right side of the floor.
There were more gaming tables on this side. It was your basic gambling set up with blackjack, craps and roulette. After buying 80 Duck Dollars (for $40) and with drinks in hand, we saddled up to an empty blackjack table with an energetic dealer, Robert. (Hi Robert! I told you I would give you a shout out.) Robert promised us that he'd get some players over to the table to play us. After he tried unsuccessfully to lure Jonas Hiller and some guy that looked really familiar (I later learned it was Jeff Deslauriers) away from the craps table, he got the attention of a handsome, blonde Finn watching us play. It took some negotiating and turning the bubbly charm up to 11, but finally we convinced Niklas Hagman to join us at the table.
He was shy at first, but once we started talking with him in a normal conversation - not like this drunk super-fan that sat down for a couple minutes - he opened up. We chatted about his family. He's got two kids. The four year old was born in Dallas, the two year old was born in Calgary, and he's got one on the way (due in May) that will likely be born here. His family has made the move from Calgary down to So Cal and they love it here because the kids can play outside during the winter. He traded in his Audi for a Porsche after he was claimed on waivers. When he ran out of beer, he went to get another one and offered to pickup drinks for Tiffany and I - and not in a "I'm hitting on you" way. Trying to get him to say "Blood Orange Cocktail" was pretty funny and he came through with our drinks.
You can applaud Tiffany for getting all this information. She kept asking all kinds of questions and explaining how she fell in love with the Ducks and hockey after going to a game with me. One question she asked that was really interesting was about how it was to come to a new team, possibly with guys you've fought against. He said, and I'm paraphrasing, that hockey is his job. You may not like the people you work with but you go to work anyway to accomplish what you're supposed to do. He laughed and said that his last career hat trick was against Jonas Hiller, but they held no ill will towards each other. He added that everyone off the ice is different than who they are on the ice. He said he was lucky when he came to Anaheim because he had so many familiar Finnish faces there to greet him. One of those familiar Finns, Toni Lydman, kept dropping by to check in with him. I finally had to make a rule that no one was allowed to speak Finnish at the table. Toni, by the way, took the picture above.
Toni also took a picture with Tiffany. While I was getting ready to shoot the picture, I said, "Everyone smile!" From over my shoulder, Hagman said, "Not you, Toni. It's not a good look for you."
They were really entertaining. Nicklas, a guy that's never really played blackjack and has never been to Vegas, made a killing at the table. He gave a majority of his chips (with the help of Robert) to Tiffany and I as he was leaving the table to do his time on the picture stage. I can't help but cheer for Hagman from now on.
If you go back to the picture of the right side, you'll see a stage on the far side of the arena. Every hour a new group of Ducks would go up on the stage, and fans would be able to take pictures with the guys for 50 Duck Dollars. There wasn't a big run on the stage unless a big name player was up there. For example, the group of Andrew Cogliano, Devante Smith-Pelly, Luca Sbisa and Nate Guenin, not a big draw. The group of Teemu Selanne, Saku Koivu, and Lubomir Visnovsky had a huuuge line. We decided to stand in the line for the latter. The pictures are going to be posted online sometime this week.
There were two players we were determined to get pictures with. First up was George Parros for Tiffany. She loves the guy. Not surprisingly he was one of the more popular players.
The last player we had to find was Bobby Ryan. He, like Parros, was surrounded by fans almost the entire night. We finally stepped up to him, and I had a moment to blurt out something unexpected. I said that my grandma passed away a couple weeks ago and she was a huge fan of his. I said that her passing was around that time his game started picking up a little bit. He was taken back and said "I don't want to say that's a good thing!" I laughed and said, "No, no. That's not what I meant. You've got an angel looking out for you." We then posed for the picture below and afterward I said, "It's not a bad thing. She loved watching you play. Keep it up."
I have no idea why I decided to say all that. All I wanted was a picture with him because she would have loved to have seen it. I probably freaked him out.
Anyhoo, after that we had to cash in our chips for raffle tickets. You put the tickets in boxes for various big ticket prizes. Of what I can remember, the prizes were: a suite at a Ducks game of your choice (nice); four plaza level tickets to a Ducks game and a zamboni ride (cool); VIP tickets to Van Halen (boo); four hour style consultation with some lady at Neiman Marcus (double boo); four plaza level tickets to a Ducks game of your choice, attend a practice at Honda Center with a meet and greet to follow (sweet); and VIP tickets to the Harlem Globtrotters (been there, done that - seriously). Thanks to Nicklas Hagman, we were pretty loaded on tickets.
We stuffed the boxes of all the opportunities to win tickets to a game and took our seats. As I chatted with the delightful Adam Brady from the Ducks, Tiffany was being hit-on by a very drunk man. It provided much entertainment for Adam and I as we half-listened to Kent French announce the winners of the raffle prizes we didn't enter. No matter how much she flashed her engagement and wedding ring at the guy, he just didn't get it.
They finally got to the prizes we entered. I had one stack of tickets and Tiff had another. We were furiously checking numbers, only to be disappointed each time. I never win anything so I wasn't surprised. Tiffany, on the other hand, is far luckier than I am. When we were in Vegas for the NHL Awards, she sat down at a slot machine and won $1000 on her first play. Lo and behold the winning ticket to the four plaza level game tickets, practice and meet and greet was in her hands. I launched off my seat to yell that we hand the ticket, and knowing me, Kent French said, "Jen, seriously?" She ran over, grabbed our prize, and we'll be splitting the tickets.
All in all, it was a really fun night. In past experiences with Casino Night, marquee players would leave within the first hour of arriving. This event was different. Most of the guys were there to the very end, conversing with fans and taking pictures. On multiple occasions I saw Corey Perry having separate one-on-one conversations with fans. Maybe the most shocking part of my night was when I was in the bathroom. As I was washing my hands, I saw Susan Samueli walk in and go into a stall. You'd think the owner of the team would have her own bathroom! It was kind of cool. Henry Samueli was walking around making sure everyone was enjoying themselves. Well, he was when he and Susan weren't grooving on the dance floor.
If $100 is in your budget, I really recommend going to this event. It's different than Fan Fest because they discourage bringing things to sign, but they encourage pictures and interaction. You get to see the players in a social-ish setting (it's like a work party where you can't get wasted because your boss is there). I'll definitely be back again next year.