Only an expansion team can embrace the preseason like it’s a tense playoff chase. The Vegas Golden Knights have taken that in stride.
Until the next NHL franchise comes to the forefront, this is Vegas’ time. The Golden Knights are allowed to revel in this uniqueness comes with being a new franchise. That’s what happens when you score nine goals in your first ever game, and one player (who will probably dominate for the Chicago Wolves as a top-six forward) records a hat trick.
It also explains the excitement in seeing Marc-Andre Fleury, the face of the franchise, win in his Vegas debut and practically dominate.
None of that, however, compared to Tuesday night, when the Golden Knights took the ice for the first time ever at T-Mobile Arena.
The hype. The buzz. The attraction. Every element that has gone into making the Golden Knights the talk of the town for the last 16 months was compiled into a large, explosive ball of energy that was ready to crash down in the giant events playground located in the middle of the Strip.
When we launched back in June, we highlighted many reasons why hockey was going to work in Las Vegas. It had nothing to do with the product on the ice, or what the Golden Knights were going to do in Year 1. The preconceived tale of hockey being a flop in a city where the highest temperatures can reach at least 110 degrees was going to be a nagging microcosm until the puck actually dropped for real Tuesday.
The announced attendance? 17,101.
“It was pretty special,” said Golden Knights forward Alex Tuch, per Jesse Granger of the Las Vegas Sun. “The crowd was unbelievable. I was shocked, especially for a preseason game. It’s something that I’ll never forget.”
Let’s be frank: It didn’t look like 17,000 people packed T-Mobile Arena. It was a loud crowd, albeit. When the Golden Knights’ first ever intro video played on the jumbotron, a palpable buzz overcame the arena. There were enough chills because the arena’s core temperature was set to a cozy 58 degrees, but the excitement was evident. Heading into T-Mobile Arena, a family of three was about to go through security when I overheard the father say to his son, “You’re about to witness history, and it’s awesome.”
Here’s the first intro video in Golden Knights history. pic.twitter.com/8akI8oJg75— Danny Webster (@DannyWebster21) September 27, 2017
“I had goosebumps skating out there for warmups,” said goaltender Calvin Pickard, who got the start Tuesday. “It was back-and-forth, the fans were into it. It was definitely a good night.”
Never mind the 3-2 overtime loss that will reflect on Vegas’ record this exhibition campaign. Steven Spielberg couldn’t have written a better script to document the way this game played out. The team’s first goal — Cody Eakin’s one-time sniper — produced the loudest of roars for a preseason game. Just minutes later, Vegas resident Deryk Engelland scrapped with Kurtis MacDermid for the first ever fight at T-Mobile Arena. The crowd did the freaking wave, and then eventually did a choreographed YMCA.
God help us if those will be recurring things.
That’s just a small blip of the energy Tuesday night, even after the final goal 12 seconds into overtime. That’s the beauty of preseason: You can’t be too mad. Vegas knows there are things to get better at, such as improving on an 0-for-4 power play stint and controlling the puck better in its zone. Most of the Golden Knights’ contingent was all smiles after the game, especially when describing the atmosphere.
“Yeah, that was fun,” said head coach Gerard Gallant. “To see that crowd out there and the way they reacted. It was awesome, you didn’t expect that in a preseason game. Everybody enjoyed it, it was a lot of fun.”
Even the Kings, who will play many times in this building, were in awe of the environment.
“Oh, it’s great,” said L.A.’s young goaltender Jack Campbell. “It’s such a great atmosphere and you know, even through warmups it was really exciting. The fans were out there. We had a lot of Kings fans come out for the game. All game they were trying to get the other side fired up and it was just nice to steal one from them.”
The Golden Knights will play two more home preseason games before the real thing begins. If this game provided anything, other than actual hockey, it’s that this city is ready for said real thing. When Vegas takes the ice for its home opener on Oct. 10 against the Arizona Coyotes, it’s going to have the feel of a playoff game. It will be loud. It will be exciting.
There will also be jitters and realistic expectations at some point. But for now, it’s all about enjoying what the city of Las Vegas has right now.
“Once I walked out seeing the crowd for the first start of the period, you knew it was going to be a nice night,” Gallant said. “They were really into it, it was a great game experience tonight.”
That’s just the beginning.