Growing up in New York City, baseball was the sport that enveloped me almost year round. Yes, I knew about football, and the New York Giants were even good back then. But they didn’t engender the same passion I felt for my beloved Brooklyn Dodgers or the same degree of antipathy I felt for the New York Baseball Giants or the fearsome Yankees.
Hockey? Sure, I knew it existed, but the New York Rangers were another team I just didn’t get. I liked to watch the game—my father was a champion skater and took us to see games every year. But it just didn’t click with me.
Fast forward to my life at the age of 23 in Washington, D.C. and the birth of the Capitals, a hapless franchise that has yet to even sniff a Stanley Cup final. But I did embrace the team, perhaps the same way New Yorkers did with the Mets in the early ’60s after the Dodgers and Giants fled the city for the West Coast.
And now I live in a city that previously had no major-league professional sports until the Vegas Golden Knights skated on the ice in early October of last year for the very first time. While I certainly enjoy and appreciate hockey more than I did as a child, I expected to become a casual fan of a team that would undoubtedly struggle to win before a sea of half-empty seats.
And then 1 October hit. Those of us who were at G2E last fall will never forget the scene on the Strip that night. And those of us who actually live in Las Vegas witnessed the outpouring of assistance and love in a city that was perceived to be a bit cold and heartless up until that event.
And then came opening night for VGK about a week later. While I wasn’t there, what I saw on television had me weeping in my beer. The tributes to the first responders, the heartbreaking homage to the victims, and the coming together of a city was reflected in the ceremonies that should have been jubilant and glorious, but were instead sincere and melancholy, and wholly appropriate.
But then the games began and something even more amazing happened. The Golden Knights began to win. Eight straight to open the season and they never looked back. In one of many firsts for expansion teams, VGK won their division. This has never happened before in any sport.
At this writing, VGK has won their first two playoff series and now is playing in the conference finals.
The Golden Knights were a bunch of cast-offs from other teams with chips on their shoulders, anxious to show their talent. And that they surely have done. Tickets to VGK games quickly became the hottest in town, even surpassing the great Cirque shows!
Consider this. This season, VGK compiled 109 points. Compare this to one of the original six NHL teams, the Toronto Maple Leafs, who have been playing hockey longer than the NHL has been around, for well more than 100 years. The Maple Leafs have never scored more than 105 points in any season.
But more than their winning ways, the Golden Knights have united Las Vegas in a way I never thought possible. The games are true celebrations. Opponents are intimated by the crowd. In football, they call it the 12th man, so I suppose in hockey it would be the seventh-man advantage.
And that’s in the face of a flood of fans of the opposing teams who come to Vegas to party and catch a game featuring their favorite team, at least during the regular season. Vegas fans have become great hosts, welcoming fans from around North America—and then soundly beating the visitors.
Vegas being Vegas, the sports books have taken a beating from the local bettors who have had more faith in their team than the bookmakers did. For the first half of the season, bettors cleaned up by betting VGK and the over. And let’s not forget the in-running betting. Those phones are out making bets throughout the game.
So thanks to the Golden Knights for bringing a sense of community to Las Vegas and for indelibly creating a link to the people who live here. And may we be lifting the Stanley Cup down the Strip sometime in June!