By Steve Virgen, firstname.lastname@example.org
12:41 AM EDT, July 1, 2011
It wasn't too hard to find Kevin Connolly among a handful of NHL players at Sutra in Costa Mesa Saturday night.
He was the shortest, but he was also the most prominent celebrity during a charity benefit for Talk About Curing Autism. The actor, best known for his work as Eric "E" Murphy on Entourage, was very personable and cooperative during a pre-event reception for the inaugural Ryan Getzlaf Golf Shootout.
But then again there wasn't that much media to deal with at the event. It appeared as if the Daily Pilot was the only newspaper there, not that there are much of us around anyway.
Regardless, this night wasn't about media, or cameras flashing at a red-carpet entrance, or big-time hockey players. It wasn't about Connolly. This was about autism, known to many as the silent epidemic.
Connolly is a big fan of hockey. He also has a close friend whose son is autistic. Autism, a neurological and biological disorder, affects one in every 91 children, according to TACA's website, which also states an estimate of over 1 million people in the U.S. have it. The epidemic hits home for me too. My daughter, who is 6, is autistic and was born Down syndrome.
"It would be nice to raise some money for autism," Connolly, a die-hard Islanders fan, said before entering Sutra. "It's a great cause. Ultimately it's always about raising money."
Connolly later posed for photos on the red carpet. He had his hands in his pockets for some shots and he wore sunglasses for others. He was cool about it all. Later, in the club, he tipped big at the bar. Once he made sure to order a drink for a stranger before he got his.
I guess everyone was in a giving mood at Sutra. Getzlaf was also more than willing to pose for the cameras.
Getzlaf has a male cousin, Morgan, who is 18 and is autistic.
"The biggest goal is to raise money and get the awareness on TACA," said Getzlaf, whose event raised more than $160,000, according to TACA.
Just a few nights before the event he was supporting his teammate Corey Perry, who won the Hart Trophy for being the most valuable player in the NHL.
Saturday, Perry came to support Getzlaf's cause.
"To give back to the community is always an added bonus," Perry said. "For autism, you just want to help as much as possible. If you can do that hopefully it does something."
They all wanted to help with the charity event. Over 200 people participated in the two-day event to raise money for TACA.
TACA is based in Costa Mesa. The founders, Glen and Lisa Ackerman, live in Newport Beach. They were also there Saturday night. The next day Getzlaf held his Golf Shootout at Pelican Hill Golf Club in Newport Coast.
Lisa Ackerman was excited to help organize the event. But she wanted to help on one condition: the hockey players would compete in a "Happy Gilmore" putting contest, using hockey sticks.
The Ackermans want to have fun, but they also want to focus on autism awareness. They have two children, Lauren, 28, who is typical, and Jeff, 14, who is autistic.
Back in 2000, they said they just wanted to have a simple barbeque dinner of 10 people so they could talk about autism and introduce Jeff.
"We started with 10 and now we serve over 26,000," Lisa Ackerman said. "The barbeque is too big now."
TACA is a non-profit organization that provides support, education and information to those who are touched by autism.
The growth of TACA and its focus proved appealing to Getzlaf and his wife, Paige. They wanted to help. Getzlaf recruited more help.
In addition to Perry, George Parros, Bobby Ryan, Luca Sbisa and Andy Sutton also of the Ducks participated in the golf event at Pelican Hill. Shane O'Brien, who played for the Nashville Predators this past season, Paul Bisonette (Phoenix Coyotes), Brett Festerling Atlanta Thrashers) and Joffrey Lupul (Toronto Maple Leafs) were also there. Lupul, Festering and O'Brien are former Ducks.
Connolly wasn't the only actor from Entourage there on Sunday. Kevin Dillon, who plays Johnny Drama, also showed up to take a few swings.
Connolly was happy to show up to Sutra on Saturday, but he also had other hopes.
"It's pretty ugly," Connolly said of his golf game. "I'm hoping these guys have a lot of fun [Saturday night] so they're a little off [Sunday]."
Overall, everyone turned out to be on their game.