NHL players hit the felt in made-for-TV charity poker tournament

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Sheldon Souray squaring off against teammate Craig Rivet. Rookie Dustin Penner going toe-to-toe with the retired Marc Bergevin. Martin Brodeur taking on both Tie Domi and Donald Brashear. Fortunately (especially for Brodeur), the clashes take place not on the ice, but at the poker table, where 16 current and former NHLers battle for Texas Hold 'Em supremacy in the PartyPoker.net Charity Faceoff. The seven-part series premieres Saturday (TV, 1 p.m. ET) and continues throughout the holidays, culminating with the one-hour finale Dec. 30.

The tournament, which was played in August prior to training camp, will give hockey fans a rare glimpse at some of their favourite players away from the arena.

"For fans, they'll be interested in seeing some of the great chatter between the rivals," said Adam Ashton, TSN's vice-president of marketing. "It's interesting to see how some of these guys bluff their way around the table. I was also fascinated to see, or not see, how some of their on-ice tendencies translated to the felt."

One of the more heated rivalries simmered on Table 3, where Montreal Canadiens teammates Souray and Rivet were teamed with Original Six nemesis Bryan McCabe of the Toronto Maple Leafs, and Simon Gagne of the Philadelphia Flyers.

Souray, who admitted he didn't last long, had high praise for McCabe.

"Caber? Oh, Caber, he's a beauty," Souray joked. "With him, you just don't know. He's probably such a good bluffer, anyway, just in life.

"He made good bets when he had to, he probably bluffed us out a few times, and when it came time to show his cards, he had (good) cards."

Souray was stunned to learn that Rivet was out for blood - even if it ran Canadiens red.

"They told me Craig was out to get me, and I was surprised that he was getting so personal with me," said Souray. "It was a lot of fun. But I think he was looking forward to taking me down."

Ashton said Brashear, an outspoken tough-guy with the Washington Capitals, provided the most surprising moments - and not for what he said. Brashear was strangely quiet, despite being seated with noted L.A. Kings chatterbox Sean Avery.

"His silence spoke volumes," said Ashton. "Guys knew of Donald's reputation on the ice."

Souray said the rapid growth in poker interest, combined with the NHL's desire to market its players more extensively, created the perfect opportunity for the league to jump into the Hold 'Em world.

"We have some characters in the league, personality guys who are marketable," said Souray. "We should take advantage of it. There are ways to expose these guys. Other sports are doing it."

As for the quality of play, Ashton said viewers who favour well-played poker may be in for a treat.

"I was surprised," said Ashton. "We all were. There are a few guys here who know what they're doing. Obviously they've watched, they've read, they've been on the Internet, and they know how to play."

The event will provide $100,000 for various charities, including the NHLPA's Goals & Dreams Fund. The top player will see his charity awarded $20,000, while the runner-up earns $10,000 for his charity. All other players' charities will earn $5,000.

Souray represented Gordon Russell's Crystal Kids Youth Centre, a centre in Edmonton which offers assistance to inner-city kids.

"I thought it would be something where they would be surprised and thankful that I was going to be able to help them out," said Souray.

Other players involved are: Mike Cammalleri of the Kings, Tim Connolly of the Buffalo Sabres, Georges Laraque of the Phoenix Coyotes, Brad May of the Colorado Avalanche, Dustin Penner of the Anaheim Ducks, Maxime Talbot of the Pittsburgh Penguins and Scott Walker of the Carolina Hurricanes.

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