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July 22, 2014

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HOCKEY:

NHL takes a true Las Vegas-style vacation

Parties, poker and celebrities usher in NHL Awards show

And the Winner is...

One day before the NHL Awards, finalist and presenters talk about the award show moving to Las Vegas.

Hockey in Motion

NHL 2K10 cover model Alexander Ovechkin and Selke Trophy finalist Ryan Kesler helped warm-up Las Vegas to this week's award ceremony with a motion-capture session Tuesday in front of Caesars Palace.

When the National Hockey League visits Las Vegas, it certainly does it right.

As an appetizer to Thursday's nationally televised NHL Awards show, the Palms Hotel and the league welcomed the awards show trophy presenters with a reception in a posh suite high atop the Fantasy Tower on Wednesday night.

Current players like Pat Kane and Jarome Iginla mingled with former greats such as Mark Messier and Pat LaFontaine while dining on decadent hors d'oeuvres lining a giant ice sculpture – not a bad way to start a Vegas vacation.

"(Las Vegas) is an exciting city, everybody enjoys coming here," Iginla said. "When I heard the awards were going to be here, I was hoping I'd be able to come and fortunately I could … It's a nice way to cap the year."

This is the first year of a three-year deal between the NHL and the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority. In an effort to raise the profile of hockey, the league decided to move the event from its traditional Toronto location to Las Vegas.

The actual awards presentation will be televised live from the Pearl Concert Theater on Versus at 4 p.m. Thursday.

"The anticipation for this is unreal," said Palms owner George Maloof. "I just went downstairs to look at the set for the show. It's spectacular."

In addition to switching the location of the awards show, the NHL Players' Association moved its annual meeting to Las Vegas as well. The geographic move of both events seemed to draw universal praise at the presenters' reception Wednesday.

"I think it's exciting, I think it's fresh," said Messier, a six-time Stanley Cup champion. "I think it's a great way to put the sport on an international platform. I think in every way it's a very positive thing. I know everybody coming here is excited."

Also on Wednesday, just across the street at the Rio, the NHL stole the show from the World Series of Poker as hockey players battled celebrities and professional poker players in a charity poker tournament.

Hockey stars such as Alex Ovechkin and Roberto Luongo competed with the likes of pro poker player Chris Moneymaker and television star Kevin Connolly in the PokerStars.net Charity Shootout.

ESPN even built a miniature ice rink and special hockey table for the event, which will be televised on ESPN2 and ESPN Classic.

"This is a great idea," said Nashville Predators forward Steve Sullivan. "It takes us away from the ice and puts us in a different venue. I think it's great for the fans to see us in different aspects of our lives."

The tournament raised more than $150,000 for the Ronald McDonald House of Las Vegas as well as the NHLPA Goals & Dreams Fund. Each participating NHL player also received $2,000 to donate to a charity of his choice.

Although the NHL players were enjoying themselves Wednesday, they will focus on some business issues after the awards show at the annual North American Summer Player Meetings at the Venetian on Friday and Saturday.

Fresh off the heels of one of the highest-rated Stanley Cup Finals and with the awards show in a new venue, the NHLPA hopes to capitalize on the opportunity to promote the sport of hockey.

"We want to make sure that we keep growing the game now that we are tied to revenues," Sullivan said. We want to make sure that we capitalize on as much revenue as possible. We want to continue to raise the game and smooth our partnership with the NHL so that we can work as partners and grow this great game."

Steve Silver can be reached at 948-7822 or [email protected].

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