Think back to this time last year.
The announcement was coming. Las Vegas or Quebec City. One of these two cities was getting an NHL franchise. It seemed inevitable that Las Vegas, despite building a state-of-the-art arena that would eventually host a professional sports team, would lose out to Canada, where hockey reigns supreme.
Bill Foley never stopped. He urged and pleaded with the Las Vegas community that this was not a fluke. He was determined to bring hockey to Sin City. By the time mid-June came around, the ambitious prospective owner of this unfathomable hockey team in Las Vegas secured 15,000 deposits for season tickets.
He wanted this. Las Vegas wanted it. And they got it.
Hockey is coming to Las Vegas. It still seems like a dream, but the Vegas Golden Knights are not a mirage (not the casino on the Strip). They are the 31st franchise in the National Hockey League. They will form a roster on June 21 during the expansion draft. They will make their first ever NHL Draft selection on June 23. And once that’s done, they’ll play hockey in October.
It’s going to happen, and it’s going to work.
Las Vegas, who has gone many moons without a professional sports franchise, is slated to have two by the turn of the decade. The Oakland Raiders’ eventual move to the 702 is gaining the most appeal, and that’s understood. It’s the new trend, and it’s football. People are going to get excited about the NFL playing in Las Vegas. Their time will come.
But don’t forget who was here first.
The Golden Knights have been persistent in reaching out to the community. More importantly, they’ve done great work with the Las Vegas youth. The team recently held three “Sticks For Kids” events, a three-day program where team staff members taught kids the basics of hockey.
Believe it or not, Las Vegas is more than bright lights and casinos. Families are raised here. Kids go to school here. The Golden Knights have adhered to that, and it has led to a successful merger up to this point.
Las Vegas is also getting into hockey at the best possible time. This year’s Stanley Cup is for that reason. Not only did it not feature an Original Six team, but a squad from Nashville pushed it to six games. Talk about Las Vegas not being a hockey town, but the city of Nashville embraced that team throughout the best run in franchise history like no team ever seen. It was almost 20 years ago that the Predators were in the same boat as the Golden Knights: an expansion team starting from the bottom. Now, they’re one of the best teams in the league.
The Game 6 clincher reached a 4.8 overnight rating, a 28 percent spike from last year’s Pittsburgh Penguins Cup clincher. That says something.
And as fans continue to follow the Golden Knights, they’ll quickly realize T-Mobile Arena is one of the best facilities in the United States. The potential for what that arena can bring is indescribable. It opened in April, and it has already seen big UFC fights, major concerts and soon, a hockey team. The city of Las Vegas has adapted about as well as it can since T-Mobile Arena opened. Coupled with that is The Park, the outdoor district across the arena, featuring plenty of restaurants and entertainment selections. It’s going to lure visitors just as it does locals already.
That hockey team is also getting a quality coaching staff right out of the gate. Gerard Gallant is going to make the Golden Knights competitive. The wins may not come right away, but they’ll be a tough, physical team that may shock people. Gallant already has familiarity around him with the hiring of Mike Kelly as his lead assistant, who was with Gallant during their successful run with the Florida Panthers.
Again, the next time you don’t think Las Vegas can be a hockey town, look at the Panthers based in Sunrise, Florida. Only five playoff appearances and one Stanley Cup appearance in 23 years, but that’s a loyal fan base who loves that team.
The addition of the Golden Knights to the NHL isn’t a publicity stunt. It’s not something that’s going to go haywire in two years. This is a real thing. Las Vegas has been granted a professional sports franchise. I’ve lived here all my life and I never thought the day would come that a pro sports team would come to Sin City. There are many residents who have longed to cheer for something other than UNLV sports. It’s been a long time coming, and this could turn out to be the best thing to ever happen to this wonderful city.
Next week, when the Golden Knights are on the clock, the reality will set in. Las Vegas will officially be in the world of professional sports. It’s going to be wonderful.
And it will work.