By Paul Hewson
Here we are at the start of another NHL season – one of the more anticipated seasons in a while, thanks to some new young players like Connor McDavid, and some new rules like 3-on-3 overtime. The poker community is paying very close attention this year. Daniel Negreanu is on the verge of bringing an NHL team to Las Vegas, and the New Jersey Devils have hired pro player Sunny Mehta to lead their analytics department.
Negreanu and Mehta are two rare people who have gotten into hockey through poker. Usually, it's the other way around. Athletes across all sports are drawn to poker, especially tournament poker, but hockey players seem to bring that extra level of competitive spirit to the table. Here are five of the most accomplished hockey players to take the felt in recent years.
One of the NHL's most recognized poker players, the Florida Panthers goaltender finished No. 634 out of the nearly 6,000 entrants at the 2012 World Series Main Event. Luongo was also involved in charity poker events during his years with the Vancouver Canucks. The move to Florida has cut into Luongo's poker time, but he told Yahoo Sports last year that he's considering turning pro after he hangs up the skates.
Daneyko won three Stanley Cups with the Devils, where he spent his entire 20-year NHL career playing defense. Now he's a sponsored pro player in New Jersey. You can often find Daneyko trying out his skills in Atlantic City. He won a $200 NLHE deepstack tourney at the 2014 Borgata Spring Poker Open, earning over $14,000 for his efforts. It was his first large-scale MTT, with a field of 271 players.
Playing for the Toronto Maple Leafs isn't quite what it used to be, say, 50 years ago. But Kessel took advantage of his time there to get some coaching from Negreanu himself, and he's parlayed that knowledge into four min-cashes at the WSOP – including two at this year's event. Now with the Pittsburgh Penguins, Kessel was also seen sweating Negreanu at last year's Big One for One Drop, where DNegs finished second to Daniel Colman.
You do not want to mess with Simmonds when he's patrolling the ice for the Philadelphia Flyers. You might want to be careful at the tables, too. Simmonds is one of several NHL players participating in charity events, most notably at the 2010 NHL Charity Shootout. But he's probably more familiar for scoring Gordie Howe hat tricks than pulling off triple-barrel bluffs.
If you're a hockey fan and you haven't heard of Greg Mueller, you're not alone. The Swiss native spent the '90s playing in Europe, mostly in the smaller leagues in Germany. But Mueller is easily the most successful of the hockey players to make the transition to poker. He's won over $2.7 million in live earnings, cashing in multiple times on all the major tours. Mueller even owns two bracelets from winning the $1500 NLHE Shootout and the $10K NLHE World Championship in 2009. Luongo has some catching up to do.