How NHL teams and players have become hooked on poker
Besides cheering for Team USA at the Sochi Winter Olympics, hockey players preoccupy themselves with a lot of activities during this brief break from the NHL season. From basketball to football, these players engage in other sports as their way to remain physically fit during the off-season. But over the years, poker is increasingly becoming a favorite mental pastime among professional hockey players.
Ice hockey players are among the growing number of sportsmen who are becoming glued to poker. The Canadians can take credit for making poker a popular game within the NHL: a lot of past and present hockey players from Canada actually emerged successful in numerous entry- and elite-level poker tournaments. Vancouver Cunuck’s Roberto Luongo in 2012 debuted in the $10,000 buy-in no limit hold’em event at the World Series of Poker or WSOP – poker’s own version of the Stanley Cup, while retired Montreal Canadiens legend Guy Carbonneau is now a professional at the Playground Poker Club in Montreal.
The Canadian poker craze soon made its way to American member-teams of the NHL. The spread of the card game can be attributed to the numerous charity poker events that are participated by NHL players. One of the league’s biggest tournaments to date is the 2009 NHL Charity Poker Shootout, whose all-star line-up included Alex Ovechkin of the Washington Capitals, Kris Versteeg of the Chicago Blackhawks, and Steve Sullivan of the Nashville Predators (before playing for the New Jersey Devils). In addition, NHL teams have also begun joining forces with casino companies to reach out to their poker-loving fans. New Jersey Devils in January announced its partnership with PartyPoker, an online poker room from the same creators of partycasino.com and www.giocodigitale.it, in a multi-year sponsorship deal that is regarded as the first of its kind not only in the NHL but also in the US.
New Jersey Devils’ very own Martin Brodeur is also making his presence felt in numerous poker events. The 41 year-old goaltender and 3-time Stanley Cup champion has proven to be one of the Devils’ most lethal players in his 23 years with the team. But besides his passion for ice hockey, Brodeur has also developed a special liking for poker. He is a staple in many celebrity poker tournaments, where he donates all of his winnings to his chosen charity. More recently, Brodeur organized his own charity poker event for the benefit of the Martin Brodeur MB30 Foundation.
Will poker continue to be the most favored casino game in the NHL? Recent trends speak for the affirmative. The rise of Roberto Luongo and Martin Brodeur and the recent New Jersey Devils-PartyPoker sponsorship deal all show that poker in the NHL is here to stay.