Monday, 11th December 2023 05:48
Home / How to learn how to watch ice hockey, the PokerStars way

Let’s talk perks. Big perks. The kind of perks available to PokerStars players at PokerStars events.

Like trips to the Sphere. That’s one. Or the perk offered last night. Tickets to a Golden Knights game, Las Vegas’s Stanley Cup winning NHL heroes, at the T-Mobile arena.  

Throw in a party bus and a few staff, and you get a perfect demonstration of why PokerStars events offer something you can’t get anywhere else.

What follows here is something like our informal guide to watching ice hockey – the PokerStars way. A 9-step guide.

It doesn’t require an understanding of the rules. Just a “leave it to us” attitude. And a pink limo. But we’ll get to that later.

Let’s start at the beginning.

STEP I. Assemble a team

Getting a group of poker players together in a certain place at a certain time sounds easy. It should be easy. 6pm in the lobby.

Dean Morrow (team: Pittsburgh Penguins) knew this too, even as he ran full speed to catch up with the bus as it drove off without him.  

“When I woke up I had 35 missed calls on my phone,” he said, out of breath.

He’d set alarms, and even asked him mother to call him to avoid missing it. Instead, he proved how falling asleep in Las Vegas can be lethal. Especially when you have a courtesy bus to the Golden Knights game to catch.

He woke up at 6.02pm. But he made it.

As did another player, Mike Miller.

Mike (team: Philadelphia Flyers) is a young poker pro from Philadelphia. His cool hockey story? His friend’s sister was married to a pro player. That impressed everyone.

Even better was Yannick (team: LA Kings) from the events staff. He’d met fellow Slovenian Anze Kopitar once. Kopitar just happens to be captain of the visiting LA Kings.

But topping it all was Maddy (team: Philadelphia Flyers), also from the events team.

Maddy used to be a Flyers Ice Girl, a professional cheer leader, for her hometown team. The Christmas Spectacular a few years ago still counts as one of the best days of her life, performing to a packed stadium alongside Flier’s mascot Gritty, “the best mascot in the world”.

We all oooohed at this.

For my part (team: no affiliation) I’ve never watched a hockey game in my life.

Anyway, we were all set for the next step.

STEP II. The Pre-Game

We joined the crowds filtering into the stadium, emptying pockets, and then refilling them on either side of a security gate.

As we did one of our group explained how stadiums tend not to allow bags much bigger than a credit card. Unless it’s an essential medical item, like the epi-pen he kept with him.

Tickets to see the Las Vegas Golden Knights were available for PokerStars players, VIPs, and others. Part of the activities laid on for players at all PokerStars events

Hearing this a random man in the crowd came over, pushing his way through the crowd to double check he’d heard this right.

“Do you mean you can get a bag through, unsearched, if it’s for medical reasons?”

I’m not sure his intentions were entirely benign. But he dashed off as if he’d just discovered an unstoppable way to win the Cannonball Run.

STEP III. Match preparation

Being poker players, everyone did what came naturally. They loaded up on 50-50 tickets.

If you’re not familiar with a 50-50 it’s common at sporting events around the world.

You buy what is basically a raffle ticket. Then all the money is added up with fifty percent going to charity and the other fifty per cent to a single winner. It’s like an in-game lottery.

The pre-game warm up inside the T-mobile arena

Then at some point during the game, they announce the winning number.

Back home, this involves buying a single ticket for a prize you can count in the hundreds. But this is Las Vegas. They do things differently here.

Dean went in first, emerging with a long strip of paper about six feet long, as if he’d just done his yearly accounts on an old adding machine.

“I got 450 tickets’” he said with a smile.

This is Vegas and Dean is a poker player. He was just maximising opportunities.

STEP IV: Learn the basics

The practical aim of hockey is simple. Score more goals than the other team.

Philosophically, the aim is more about entertainment. And at maximum levels.

I’m told a Golden Knights pre-game show is different to any other team.

It’s like watching the pirate ships fight it out outside Treasure Island, or the Mirage volcano explode. Only with 17,500 paying customers expecting their way more than their moneys’ worth.

Cue an elaborate performance complete with a golden knight, noise on demand, and an air raid siren. The jumbotron didn’t ask for participation, it demanded, and the crowd obliged.  

Suddenly we were engulfed in an irresistible cacophony of sound.

STEP V. The game itself

It’s a different sporting atmosphere to what you might experience in Europe. The level of abuse towards referees and opposition players borders on civility compared to the average soccer crowd.

They might be too busy trying to follow the game to come up with morale destroying slurs.

Hockey moves at a thousand miles an hour. It’s pointless trying to spot the puck. So, you watch the players and where they go. Often backwards, quicker than my car will go forwards.  

If you’re struggling to grasp the rules, it helps to have a Canadian Big Brother contestant with you who can explain what is for him, a religious experience.

Luckily, we had Derek Kesseler on hand.

Just to meet Derek (team: Edmonton Oilers) makes you want to eat more healthily, call your mother more, and moisturize.

He has the looks of a Hollywood actor, and the personality of the most popular kid in school. It was no wonder he nearly won that series.

He was also a great guide to the high-speed electrifying highlights of the game.

And if you’re curious, Derek appeared in Season 6 of the Canadian Big Brother. He later went on to appear in The Courtship. What was it like, I asked.

“It made me much calmer,” he said, explaining how what you see on the TV show is the edited version. Most time is spent, well, mooching around. You can’t help but learn to slow down and take stock.  

Derek bought a more reasonable $50 worth of 50-50 tickets.

STEP VI. Establish team loyalty

The first period passed without incident. The interval was a chance to explore the concession stand and the limits of a credit card.

In the merch store Dean and I browsed gifts for the kids back home, although the only merch he’s interested in is a second PokerStars sharkie. The man has two young kids. Taking one toy home will cause trouble.

There were the usual Golden Knights jerseys, caps, hats, those super large finger things, stickers, you name it. And pucks. I picked one up for a closer look. It was heavier than I thought.

“That’s a weapon in our house,” said Dean, and gave it a pass.

Dean, 37, has been playing since the old days of PokerStars. Before Black Friday. That day temporarily ended his poker career.

Dean Morrow (right) complete in PokerStars football jersey

“I got a real job, got married, and had two kids,” he said. “[Then] when PokerStars went live in Pennsylvania in 2019, I was clicking the refresh button to download.”

He admitted he wasn’t much good before he stepped away form the game. But his results now suggest a complete transformation.

“I started with $500 and was fortunate enough to play and run well early.

“In the last four years I’ve won countless tournaments online, including a SCOOP trophy event, WSOP bracelet and four WSOP circuit rings.

“Getting to play in my first WSOP main event in 2022 and making day four was a bucket list event. Playing in the NAPT return is another wonderful add to the list.”

And his ambition this week? Well, it was the only acceptable one.

“I want to win the main event. Anything less will be a disappointment.” 

So, while I settled on a Golden Knights woolly hat, Dean stuck to his 50-50 tickets. First prize $35,000. He’s running well, with plenty of chips going into Day 2. So why not.

I got a more amateur $20 worth.

STEP VII. Meet like-minded fans

You never know who you’re sitting next to at an ice hockey game. Even when you travelled to the stadium in the same bus.

Maddy had been chatting to Derek about the usual stuff. Where are you from, that sort of thing.

Maddy with Mike Miller. Both Flyers fans, but only one is a former Flyers Ice Girl

“Did you ask him about Big Brother?” I said.

“What? He was on Big Brother?”

“Yes,” I said.

“Shut up! That’s my favourite show!”

Like I said, the result is not always the most important part of a hockey game. Maddy now found herself sitting next to the walking encyclopaedia of her favourite show.

But you have access to these people at PokerStars live events. You should have seen her face when we told her about Arlie Shaban.

STEP VIII. Learn to adapt mid-game

The game itself was over in the second period. The Golden Knights went 2-0 down, soon the be 3-0 leaving all but the Kings fans unconvinced.  

Not everyone seemed to care. The jumbotron asked for more noise, and the fans made it. It was only after the 50-50 numbers were revealed that 17,499 losing fans began to leave.

None of us were $35,000 richer.

Then when a fourth Kings goal slid into an open net from range, we all got up and left. The Golden Knights played out the last 11 seconds alone.

Derek Kesseler (right). A Canadian. A Hockey fan. A Big Brother contestant.

STEP IX. POST GAME ANALYSIS

No sporting event is complete without the post-game.

We’d arrived at the Arena in a party bus. But it was unavailable for the trip back to Resorts World so we would have to compromise.

A solution was found in the shape of a 35-foot stretched limo in hologram pink.

All class. The pink limo.

It makes a statement, parked up outside the stadium.

“Lipstick on a pig,” said a man walking by.

But it was our pig. And it had Bluetooth and disco lighting. And as cramped as it was, we grew fond of it very quickly.

Nobody talks about the leg room when they talk about limousines

Arriving back at the end of the evening we strolled towards the hotel lobby, passing and immaculate limo in the more traditional black and chrome.

“Look at that peasant limo”, said Dean, drunk on the powerful effects of our more ostentatious ride.

The PokerStars ice hockey experience was complete.

Dean left with reminders from me (team: Las Vegas Golden Knights) to wake up on time. Which he did. In fact, both he and Mike made the money the next day. A win still something to dream about as they called it a night.

As Dean had said, anything less would be a disappointment. Except a trip to a Golden Knights game.

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