Sin City Is Now A Top NHL Hockey Town
By Kevin Wilkerson, PubClub.com Sports Blogger
Known more for glitz than goals, Las Vegas became a home for hockey last year and it was – like a mesmerizing big-production casino show debut – a huge success.
The Las Vegas Golden Knights won over Sin City and they also won, advancing to the Stanley Cup Finals before losing to the Washington Capitols in six games.
In the process, they became the toast of the town, adopted by the residents as one of their own, and now heading into the 2018-19 season have a huge and loyal fan base in which to build upon their remarkable first-year success.
The story of how The Golden Knights became firmly planted in a place in which seems to have the attention span of a teenager with a cell phone is one that is a model for future expansion franchises. (Let’s see if the Raiders can follow in the footsteps.)
They did it by becoming a part of the community. They did it by getting involved in #VegasStrong. And they did it by winning. All the way to the Stanley Cup, in fact, which was unprecedented success for a first-year team in any sport.
“The team was a part of us,” said Vegas resident Darryl Smith, who became a huge Golden Knights fan, went to games, bought jerseys and followed the team with a passion throughout the playoffs. “We’ve never had a team here and they embraced the city and the fans. With the atmosphere, they made being at the games, fun and exciting and I’m really looking forward to this season.”
Bill Foley, owner of the Golden Knights, described it this way to Sports Illustrated: “We became part of the city of Las Vegas and the city of Las Vegas became a part of us.
“Now we’re part of the environment.”
Fans can go to practice and get autographs from the players as they enter and exit the practice facility. And Smith and his wife do it on a regular basis.
“The players are so nice, it’s easy to like them,” Smith said.
While Vegas has just about every form of entertainment one can think of – and people are always thinking of more ways to entertain people – up until the Golden Knights it had no sports teams.
Oh sure, there’s the 51s minor league baseball team and it has the Las Vegas Rebels basketball team. But the Rebels haven’t been running since Jerry Tarkanian was hottubbing with bikini girls.
The Golden Knights were the right team at the right place and have done what seemed impossible: make hockey fans out of people in Sin City.
Now, of course, the key is keeping the fans happy. It’s easy to spoil them early but the long-term success of a franchise is based on consistent fan support. Things are not off to a good start with the NHL having suspended Nate Schmidt for 20 games for violating the terms of the NHL/NHLPA Performance Substances Program.
Super goalie Marc-Andre Fleury may also not quite be the brick wall he was last season, either, particularly during the team’s incredible playoff run. It would have nothing to do with a sudden drop in talent but the fact that the NHL has implemented new rules requiring goalies to wear smaller pads. It is expected this move will increase scoring, making games more appealing to casual fans.
But the Knights have their following. Now we’ll see if the fans are true-blue loyal ones like those in the hockey heavens of Boston, Chicago, Toronto and other long-time NHL cities.
Or, will they be more like their California neighbors in Los Angeles in that they are only interested when the team is a winner.
In the words of an entertainer who frequently performs in Las Vegas, Jimmy Buffett, “only time will tell.”