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Athletes band together

When Mark Smith took the stage at the Blue Beet Café, it marked the first time an NHL player was the featured musician there.

July 27, 2007|By Michael Miller

NEWPORT BEACH — Mark Smith, the center for the San Jose Sharks, stood on the stage in a dark corner of the Blue Beet Café, strumming an acoustic guitar and belting out lyrics in a demented, nasal whine.

"I'm drowning in my own self-loathing," he sneered over a pulsating beat provided by his two-man band. "But it feels so good/Just like it should."

In his black T-shirt and jeans, the lead singer of the Vinyl Trees was barely recognizable as a hockey player. Two of his friends — Dustin Penner of the Anaheim Ducks and Joffrey Lupul of the Philadelphia Flyers — blended with the crowd in plain clothes. The Blue Beet was populated Thursday night with superstar athletes, but the night was about camaraderie, not competition.

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"I'm good friends with a lot of these guys," said P.J. McKaig, a doorman at the Newport Beach restaurant who helped arrange the evening's entertainment.

For years, the Blue Beet has been a popular hangout for the Ducks and other hockey stars. The back wall of the restaurant features a framed picture of Penner and a group of staff members posing around the Stanley Cup. The trophy was here at the Blue Beet a few weeks ago, making one of its many international stops after the Ducks won the finals last month.

Thursday night, the Stanley Cup was on display in Canada, and Penner and his friends left their seasonal rivalries behind them. McKaig, who knows a number of hockey players through his job, invited the Vinyl Trees to play a set — along with Lupul's band, which had to bow out when the Flyers star came down with a sore throat.

It marked the first time a National Hockey League player has been the featured musician at the Blue Beet. Scott Lewis, the restaurant's general manager, said he usually required an audition for headlining bands but eased that rule Thursday.

"If you're a professional athlete, we'll make exceptions," he said.

Penner, who has spent numerous seasons facing Smith on the court, came to the show as an admiring fan. During the summer months it became easier to relax with the opposition.

"It's awesome what he's doing," he said about Smith. "He's very talented, both on and off the ice."

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