By Cait Rohan Kelly | February 21, 2017 | People
New York Rangers Henrik Lundqvist and Chris Kreider talk about supporting the Garden of Dreams Foundation through the team's annual Casino Night, and their hopes for bringing the Stanley Cup back to New York City.
The New York Rangers at their annual Casino Night to support the Garden of Dreams.
It isn’t every Friday night that you find yourself grabbing a plate of pasta next to 1994 New York Rangers Stanley Cup champion Adam Graves, playing blackjack with Rangers alumni/Hockey Hall of Famer Rod Gilbert, or mingling with the entire Rangers team and coaching staff.
Welcome to the New York Rangers Annual Casino Night, an event at Gotham Hall where New York’s hockey legends suit up in formal wear instead of hockey gear to support the Garden of Dreams Foundation, a nonprofit organization that works in tandem with the Rangers’ home base, Madison Square Garden, to make a difference in the lives of children facing tough situations.
This year’s event upped the casino vibes with a Roaring Twenties theme. Ladies sported Art Deco-inspired frocks, sparkling gowns, and flapper-style headbands with feathers. The guys, including Rangers players, sported pinstripes, three-piece suits, and old-fashioned, black-and-white footwear. Some Rangers even went designer with their getups—Rangers captain Ryan McDonagh was dressed by Ralph Lauren, while Michael Grabner, Chris Kreider, and Kevin Hayes all wore John Varvatos, as did Moshe Illouz, who had signed a five-day contract with the team as part of the Garden of Dreams Foundation. A photo booth was onsite to capture the creative costumes and fun moments, and event-goers filled up on everything from a carving station to sushi paired with various wines and beverages.
Chris Kreider on the tables at New York Rangers Annual Casino Night.
One standout part of the evening is the access to the Rangers themselves. Guests hit the tables to enjoy blackjack, roulette, or poker alongside players like Kreider, J.T. Miller, and Hayes, snapped photos with fan favorites such as Mats Zuccarello, or chatted with new Blueshirts like Grabner.
The team felt similarly excited about getting to meet their fans. “Sometimes you’re so focused on what you’re doing when you’re with the team,” said Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist. “When you meet these people, the people that show up for the games, it’s exciting. I think that’s what I enjoy [about the event] the most. Sometimes you feel like you’re in your bubble with your eyes on the team, the focus on every game, and now you get an opportunity to talk to the fans, interact with them a little bit. They’re just excited and energetic.” Kreider, a Rangers left wing, agreed. “We’ve got a lot of events over the course of the year and a lot of opportunities to connect with fans, but this is definitely on a much larger scale.”
Sam Rosen, Henrik Lundqvist, and Joe Micheletti auction off a game-used and signed stick.
When they weren’t mingling with the team, guests were participating in live and silent auctions to give back to the Garden of Dreams. Some items up for grabs included signed team photos, a game-used and autographed stick from Lundqvist, and game-day meet-and-greets with Blueshirts legends.
But the most heartfelt reminder of the Garden of Dreams’ mission was when the organization introduced Moshe Illouz, a young man affected by cancer, who the Rangers had signed to a five-day contract. “We had him in practice a couple of days ago, had him on the ice for a couple of drills,” said Lundqvist. “It’s cool to see how excited he was, being on the ice with us, and he’s here tonight.”
Kreider feels fortunate to have influenced the life of Illouz and many children also facing obstacles. “We’ve had some great kids who have gone through some really awful situations. We’ve been able to establish pretty strong relationships, and maintain communication and connections with those kids,” he explained. “It feels like they’re part of the team. That’s really what it’s all about, that makes what we do purposeful.”
New York Rangers captain Ryan McDonagh.
And since it was a gambling event, we asked Lundqvist and Kreider if they had any bets about the remainder of the season. “You gotta go for it, right?” 11-year Ranger Lundqvist mused about making a run for the coveted Stanley Cup. “I hope we can finish strong here in the regular season and then really go for it in the playoffs. Our goal, and I think it’s a realistic one, is to go all the way. The Eastern Conference is super good, so you never know, but the goal is to win.”
Kreider, who has been with the Rangers since their playoff run in 2012, echoed those feelings. “It’s a very competitive league, but what I can say is that we’re definitely working night in and night out,” he says. “There’s a great fan base, and there’s an extreme amount of accountability in New York City—that pressure kind of makes or breaks a team. We’ve got a very competitive division, a very competitive conference, and a very competitive league. It’ll be a fun run to the finish line.”
PHOTOGRAPHY BY MSG PHOTOS