Ice Hockey in the Desert – Vegas Golden Knights Are NHL’s Golden Team
Just a year ago, Las Vegas’ professional hockey team did not exist. But this past October, the Golden Knights became the first expansion team in NFL history to win its first three games and are now leading the National Hockey League’s Western division. The team’s most recent victory came on December 23, when they bested the Washington Capitals, 3-0, before more than 17,000 hockey fans in the newly constructed T-Mobile Arena. Bryce Harper, a Vegas native who plays for the Washington Nationals (talk about divided loyalties!) dropped the game’s first puck.
Bryce Harper (center, right) dropping the first puck.
Because this is Vegas, the game, and everything that surrounds an athletic event, was over the top. Before the players hit the ice, a black knight waving the opponent’s flag challenged the golden knight. The outcome was never in doubt, with the winning banner being placed in a miniature castle. Drummers beat on drums with flashing lights as cheerleaders in gold costumes led the crowd with gold shakers. And when it was time to clean the ice, young women dressed in abbreviated knight costumes raced around the rink, pushing golden shovels.
The Golden Knight drink served at the Mandarin Oriental.
Ice hockey? In Vegas? Where it never snows and the thermometer rarely gets into the freezing zone? Surprisingly, there was so much pent-up demand for professional hockey in Vegas that support grew quickly for forming an expansion team and building an arena where they could play, sharing that space with other more Vegas-like events, like prize fights and concerts. The enthusiasm for the Knights has spread; black and gold jerseys are on sale at the airport and in hotels, and restaurants are serving drinks in honor of the team.
The Knights inaugural home game against the Arizona Coyotes on October 10, began on a somber note. On October 1, Stephen Paddock opened fire from a window high up in the Mandalay Bay Hotel, killing 58 and injuring 546 people. Before the game, the team honored the victims and appealed for donations to its charitable arm. In the aftermath of the mass shooting, the city is still healing with #vegasstrong seen everywhere. Security at the arena was extremely tight. There were no complaints.
Sports have a remarkable therapeutic effect in the wake of tragedy. After 9/11, New York was uplifted watching the Yankees reach the World Series. In 2013, the Tsarnaev brothers set off pressure cooker bombs during the Boston Marathon, killing three and injuring hundreds of others. The Boston Red Sox went on that year to win the World Series, giving the city a way to unite. This November, the Houston Astros took that World Series crown, allowing a city devastated by Hurricane Harvey to find something to cheer about.
There is, of course, a limit to what sports can do to soothe those who have been scarred by violence. In Vegas, the open space where the Harvest Music Festival was held, where so many died, remains silent and dark, an eerie reminder of what happened that evening. But looking at that sold out crowd on December 23 in the T-Mobile Arena, it was clear that Vegas is strong and like so many other cities before, will not only survive but thrive. Landing a professional hockey team is just the first step in turning Vegas into a sports city. In 2020, the National Football League’s Oakland Raiders will relocate to a brand new domed stadium in Vegas. Another team to cheer about, another way to bring people together, something we badly need, and not just in Vegas.