If someone had mentioned to me about “Knights in Las Vegas” then I would have assumed it was about a show at the Excalibur Hotel. Now though it is reference to the “Las Vegas Golden Knights”. They are the 31st team in the National Hockey League (NHL). The Knights are now playing at the brand new T-Mobile arena. There have been rumours for many years regarding a major league side either starting or being moved to Las Vegas. To be perfectly honest though, I always thought it would be an NBA franchise not the NHL. There will also be another major league team, the Oakland Raiders (NFL), who will re-locate to Las Vegas in a few years time.

Unfortunately for me it is a 10-hour flight to visit Las Vegas. However, this has not stopped me making many trips there over the years. My latest venture was to see the ‘Knights” play against Dallas at the end of November.

Former Teams

Las Vegas Thunder

With the new team up and running in Vegas, I could not help but turn my thoughts back to previous ice hockey teams that played in the city. The Las Vegas Thunder (IHL) played there from 93-99. I watched them play on a few occasions at the Thomas & Mack Centre, which is about a mile away from the strip and built more for the university and concerts etc; the sight lines for ice hockey always seemed a little odd, similar to the America West Arena in Phoenix. Chris McSorley was the head coach 95-98; I have always considered him to be one of the game’s characters. He later joined the London Knights (ISL) and he certainly put an interesting roster together there. McSorley also coached the Great Britain National team. These days he is the general manager for the Swiss A league side, Genève Serviette. Unfortunately the Thunder folded in 1999, the lease at the T & M came to an end and the owners then failed to negotiate a new agreement. The IHL also folded a few years later.

 

Las Vegas Wranglers

In 2003 a new team surfaced, the Las Vegas Wranglers (ECHL), their new home would be the arena attached to the Orleans Hotel & Casino. I managed to get to a few games during their years of existence (03-14). It was quite a unique experience, prior to a game there would be happy hour at the hotel, this was followed by dinner, on to the ice hockey game and then gambling to conclude the evening, what more can you ask for.   The team actually played a midnight match on one occasion. The Wranglers fans always seemed most enthusiastic, although the standard was perhaps a little down compared to the IHL Thunder team. The Wranglers did have some success and managed to play many more years than the Thunder.   Unfortunately though the organisation would end up going the same way, out of business. The lease at the Orleans Arena was not extended beyond 2014. The owners failed in their attempt to secure alternative premises elsewhere and therefore, sadly, the Wranglers folded.

 

Las Vegas Golden Knights (3rd Time Lucky?)

Following the announcement by the NHL, I decided to ask via twitter what the local thoughts were on the expansion? Responses were more than positive, a wonderful new arena, season ticket sales were exceeding all expectations and this proved that there would be local support. I do not think the organisation could rely on just visitors and tourists.

It was obviously time for me to book a trip, so on to my first Knights home game, the Dallas Stars were the visitors on 28th November 2017. Actually the Knights had won in Dallas in their very first NHL game. In fact the team have really ‘burst on the scene’ even topping their division at one point. Coach Gerard Gallant deserves much credit for this, putting a team together from scratch.

My wife and I booked in at the Cosmopolitan Hotel at the City Centre; it is just a 10-minute walk to the T-Mobile arena. On the evening bands were playing, lights and decorations were everywhere and the bars were crowded with fans. What a great pre-game atmosphere. We indulged in a couple of wines in the Beerhaus, which is well recommended, we then moved on to enjoy some great food and service at the California Pizza Kitchen (CPK). We did eventually make it to the arena, which is a splendid building with great facilities. The entry was swift despite the usual security; merchandise was on sale at every corner, as it is all over Las Vegas.

Our tickets were up high in the arena, I normally like to sit a little closer to the action but the seats were just great. Now if you a like a good build up and intro to a game, well, nobody does it better than this Vegas organisation. I thought the fan experience for the whole evening was top class; from the announcer to the band of drummers they make you feel involved. I have visited every club in the NHL and I have to say the atmosphere generated in Las Vegas is one of the best. Just a word of caution though, if anyone is considering going to a game at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, be prepared for high prices on food and especially drink, our current exchange rate of course does not help with this.

Unfortunately on the night, we may have jinxed the Knights with our presence. The team was on a winning run however, the Stars proved too good for them. It was an even first period with both net minders (Subban and Bishop) making good stops, this would keep the scores level. It was a different story after that, strong forechecking by the Stars in the second period paid dividends, the Knights were hemmed in and could not clear their zone and the pressure told. It did not come from the usual Dallas firepower of Jason Spezza and Tyler Sequin, instead clinical finishing by 3rd liner Radek Faksa took the game away from Vegas, he completed a 7-minute hat trick, two of the goals were just 9 seconds apart, cue hats being thrown on to the ice from the visiting fans. Ken Hitchcock (Dallas Coach) had recently challenged his 3rd line to ‘step up’ and so they did. Effectively the game was over but the Knights and their fans never gave up. Ben Bishop though is a top net minder and the Knights did not get enough bodies in front of him, this resulted in a shut out for him and a 3-0 win for the visitors.

The evening had been most enjoyable; we thought the off-ice presentation was excellent. More than 17,000 fans were in attendance; several had Wrangler shirts on. Also, even though its 20 years on, there was still a fan wearing a Thunder shirt. We did have the opportunity to speak to some other fans, they were visiting from Vancouver and Chicago and are used to watching the NHL on a regular basis. They were just as impressed as we were with the whole set up.

I really do not think there is any question about the long-term stability with this organisation. We will most certainly be back.

 

Steve Flemming