That was the messages at "The Crease" – an exclusive fundraiser put on by the Columbus Blue Jackets Foundation to kick off the 2014 NHL All-Star weekend, celebrate hometown hockey and raise funds towards the fight against pediatric cancer — all with a speakeasy theme.
Speakeasies, establishments born of the prohibition era, were known for their secretive existence but coveted memberships. With the NHL’s most prominent figures coming to town, Cathy Lyttle, vice chair of the Foundation and the event committee decided that theme matched the "secret" that Columbus is.
"Columbus had over 1,000 prohibition establishments back in the day," Lyttle said. "And there’s a parallel story line – the gem that Columbus is that people are starting to discover. We felt the speakeasy theme was very similar to how people discover our city — there might be initial hesitation but when you experience it you say wow, this is a great city."
Invitations to The Crease were sent as a cryptogram, and attendees, many in period attire, had to know the password to get in — "All Star" was whispered to the bouncer at the door of the Columbus Athenaeum to request access to the secret festivities that lay beyond.
Tom and Christine Nocar of Worthington were attending their first Foundation event.
"It was very daring for the group to put it on and I thought it came off in an incredible way," Nocar said. "It was not a traditional banquet – it was very fun, very unique, very one of a kind. I feel like we got to experience something that will never happen again."
Once inside, guests enjoyed prohibition themed drinks, big band music and dancing, magicians and other entertainment as they mingled with NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman, NHL team owners and Blue Jackets dignitaries including general manager Jarmo Kekalainen and president of hockey operations John Davidson.
Over 500 people attended The Crease – a speakeasy themed event that kicked off All-Star weekend in Columbus and raised over $600,00 for the fight against pediatric cancer.
Blue Jackets players were also in attendance including 2015 All-Stars Ryan Johansen and Nick Foligno. Both players have been heavily involved in the Foundation’s work with Nationwide Children’s Hospital and pediatric cancer patients.
"The players talked about what the All-Star game meant to them," Said Mark Gernert of Sunbury. "Hearing their personal sides and then also what it meant to them to help the children they met from Nationwide will be my favorite memory."
For Gernert, who attended with his wife, two brothers and their wives, it was the cause that motivated him to purchase the $1,000 tickets to be at The Crease. Gernert lost his uncle to cancer the day before the event, and his wife had lost her aunt to the disease two years ago.
"Our family members didn’t die of pediatric cancer but it’s still cancer and it’s still horrible," Gernert said. "Being at this event is important to us because of the cause. This is a great way to get people who wouldn’t normally give — or maybe give a little here and there — to give a substantial amount and it’s really going to make a difference."
Making the community’s money matter was the focus of the Crease event. The McConnell Family Foundation underwrote all costs of the event so that every dollar raised could go directly to the fight against pediatric cancer.
To honor such generosity friends of Jackets majority owner John P. McConnell presented him with a surprise check for $75,000 that was added to funds raised at the Crease bringing the total amount raised to over $600,000.
"It was just a wonderful way to say thank you on behalf of friends," Lyttle said. "Thank you for having the team, thank you for having the foundation and all it does in the community."
The night continued on with more surprises for guests – around 8:30, sirens and lights went off in the venue as if the speakeasy was being raided. Attendees were directed to a third floor theater where they were treated to an hour-long concert from Grammy-nominated artist Sara Bareilles. Many in attendance said the concert was the highlight of the night.
"Sara was fun, funny, and incredibly talented," Nocar said. "She had a huge voice."
Bareilles ended her concert by performing her hit song "Brave" while images of Blue Jackets players and their friends who are pediatric cancer patients were shown on screens.
As the event wound down, guests collected parting gifts and some, like Nocar, took the opportunity to drive home along Nationwide boulevard and take in all the festivities that have been set up for All-Star weekend, including a snow slide and outdoor ice rink. Gernert found himself reflecting on what a perfect introduction the Crease was to the NHL’s celebratory weekend.
"The Crease was the perfect pre-party to the big party that starts tomorrow," Gernert said. "Bettman and the McConnell’s are the reason we have the Blue Jackets here, if it wasn’t them getting this hockey team here we wouldn’t have this this weekend, it’s going to be a great time."