Thank You Golden Knights: Lifting A City And Dropping Critics

(And Thank You To Every Hater)

June 8, 2018
Golden Knights Celebrate

© Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

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UPDATE: Today is June 8th. Last night, the Vegas Golden Knights lost the Stanley Cup Final in five games. I was there in the arena. Not a dry eye in the house. This city was reeling, and this team, regardless of any victories or lack thereof, picked us up, gave us something to cheer for, and helped give the city an identity to a world that thought we all lived on the strip.

Sincerely, from the bottom of the hearts of every Las Vegan, thank you Golden Knights for giving us an incredible ride that we wouldn't trade for the world. A few players said "sorry" in post game interviews. You owe us nothing but your best, and you gave it. Nothing to apologize for. Your success is not measured in awards this year. It's measured in the spirits of the citizens of this valley that you raised for eight months. And in that competition, you won the whole damn thing.

 

(Original Post from April 6th, 2018)

By now, it probably feels like we've had a professional hockey team forever. But it wasn't that long ago - just over three years ago, when, at a conference room at MGM Grand, a gung-ho prospective owner in Bill Foley took the podium with no team, no logo, just a dream. His plea? If you want a team, put money down on tickets. That will show the league there is a fan base here.

I was in the room that day, and I recall the tone of NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman - this wasn't a sure thing. Did Vegas deserve a team to call it's own? No top-level professional sports franchise has ever called Las Vegas home. It was going to be a gamble.

February 10th, 2015, the ownership group began the season ticket drive, and began what turned out to be the most perfectly timed team a city could ask for.

Over two years later, we had a team name, a logo, and were just about to select players in the Expansion Draft and the general NHL Draft that followed. The Expansion Draft allowed the Golden Knights to pick a player from each team that wasn't on their protected list.

The Pittsburgh Penguins letting go of their beloved Marc-Andre Fleury, looking to press forward with a newer, younger goalie in the starting position. Teams like Minnesota making side deals with the Golden Knights to take Eric Haula, and just for taking him off their hands, they'd throw in Alex Tuch. This kid named William Karlsson scored 6 goals for Columbus. They cut bait, and sent them to the new team who would surely be a loser in it's first half a decade. The story went on and on. Each player, the few exceptions, as middle of the pack as the rest.

The articles were ruthless. Deadspin writer Barry Petchesky famously penned the article "Wow The Golden Knights Are Going To Be Bad"

"There are two schools of thought when compiling an expansion team. One is to go get the very best players available, believing that the best way to build a foundation for a team and a fanbase is to be as competitive as you can and give fans a reason to get and stay invested. Another is to be as awful as you possibly can. The Vegas Golden Knights correctly subscribe to the latter." - Barry Petchesky

Others "hot takes" were even more brutal, including this profanity-laced tirade from a guy named "UrinatingTree" YouTube.

To put it kindly, the hockey universe was not taking kindly to the idea of a Las Vegas hockey team. Now we had a team with a bunch of chips on their shoulders and something to prove.

Sitting in the stands during the preseason games... there was no sign of sure success. Winning three, losing three. I remember leaving that final preseason game excited for a season that, well frankly, might not pan out. The average expansion team doesn't make the playoffs in at least the first five years. It'd be a nice thing to get out of the house occasionally though, and on days I can't make it, try to get back a few bucks. I couldn't find anyone to go with me to the game. Even my hockey loving friend declined via text. "I'm at Harvest Fest".

1 October Memorial
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We know all too well what happened. Our city was shook to the core. Many of our citizens and visitors were murdered, or maimed both physically and mentally. People wanted to do something - anything to help. There was immense sadness. Fear, as nearly all of us have been at outdoor festivals just like it. Was "The Strip" a safe place to be anymore? Would our friends, family and co-workers be OK? I am the furthest thing from a country fan and I knew a dozen people there. Luckily all fine. Some of their friends were not as lucky.

There is always a moment where a community comes together, en masse, to pay tribute and to exhale after moments like these. Makeshift memorials were popping up throughout the valley, all to feed the human desire to feel connected and embraced with the people around you, and rally for good.

Having seen tragedy hit my original hometown of Boston, and seeing thousands come together at the legendary Fenway Park, with the bombers still at large. Big Papi David Ortiz gave the "exhale" moment the city needed, before a night that would take the city's breath away and lead to the capture of one suspect, the death of another.

The natural successor to any major tragedy is the eventual "charity benefit concert" but that wouldn't be for another two months. The team was just about to set off on it's first game, away in Dallas. Before doing so, they stopped by United Blood Services and Metro to show their support. Attempting to be cheerleaders to a city that all but one of them (Deryk Engelland) just moved to.

They played that first game in Dallas, and won in dramatic fashion. A nice reprieve for the few who watched. The following game was on the road at Arizona. My wife and I decided to swing by Mandalay Bay to visit a sports bar and drop some money so the workers who have seen their business get decimated have some business coming in.

The TV's? None were showing the game. I asked the waitress if she could put the game on one of them, but they didn't know the channel. Eventually, we figured it out. A total stranger and I started watching the game and chatting about the tragedy. Then, amazingly, an incredible play followed by another, and the Knights stole another victory. We cheered. We were the only ones.

The following game would be their home opener. October 10th. This, for many, was the first major public event we would visit as Las Vegans since the events of 1 October. Security was high at T-Mobile, as were emotions. Was it OK to be here? Were we safe? Were we allowed to take in entertainment only 9 days after such a tragedy only a tenth of a mile away?

The team scrapped its planned opening night gimmicks for an incredible 18 minute tribute. All the advertising along the boards, representing many thousands of dollars in corporate sponsorship, were stripped and replaced with "Vegas Strong". First responders took to the ice alongside players. Then, a absolutely gut-wrenching 58 seconds of silence. Deafening in it's quiet, you couldn't hear a single soul in the building breathe. The silence alone made me cry. The length of it all the more tragic.

Las Vegas resident Deryk Engelland took the microphone, and delivered a message to the fans. 

"Like all of you, I'm proud to call Las Vegas home. I met my wife here, my kids were born here, and I know how special this city is. To all the brave first responders who have worked timelessly and courageously throughout this whole tragedy, we thank you. To the families and friends of the victims, know that we'll do everything we can to help you and our city heal. We are Vegas Strong." - Deryk Engelland

The arena cheered. The puck dropped. That moment began the catharsis for Las Vegas.

One goal. Two goals. THREE goals! FOUR GOALS?!?!? In the first 11 minutes of the game, they accomplished a scoring streak that the NHL has rarely ever seen. All the more unlikely considering it was coming from the rag tag expansion team. It played out like a Disney movie.

The season continued, and they continued to deliver. Particularly for the home crowd. With one of the best home records in the league, going to a Knights game almost guaranteed you would feel better after the final buzzer than when you walked in.

Golden Knights Celebrate Clinch
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The players have been playing out of their minds. Marc-Andre Fleury, a beast in goal for Pittsburgh for years, has a higher save percentage than any other season in his career. William Karlsson, with only 6 goals last year, has scored 42 as of publishing this post. Players up and down the roster playing with purpose, and giving Vegas a reason to cheer.

On Saturday, the team did the unthinkable. They won the Pacific Division, guaranteeing them home ice advantage heading into the playoffs next week.

Golden Knights Memorial Banner
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They ended the regular season the way they started: by paying tribute to the city and it's heroes. Retiring the number 58 with a thoughtful banner hung high above the ice at T-Mobile Arena. They also ended it as spectacularly as they started, with a between the legs shot from William Karlsson - while on the penalty kill (one less man on the ice) - to get the lead against the team nipping at our heels - in order to win the whole damn division. It was an unlikely ending to an unlikely regular season story. 

The team never asked to be in the position of lifting the city out of a stupor. But, they did and continue to do so. Every detractor finds themselves eating crow. A nation knows there are people beyond the strip, and finds themselves rooting for a team and a city that should have been down and out at this point, but instead finds themselves stronger than ever.

No matter what happens in the playoffs, the Golden Knights have already won the city's heart. But considering they have home ice advantage, I wouldn't bet against them. There's something about Vegas. Both on and off the ice.

Golden Knights Sign
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