Emotional Knight

In The Wake Of Tragedy, Hockey Helps Lift The Spirits Of The Las Vegas Community

The sign inside the Vegas Golden Knights' practice facility is a friendly reminder that the lessons learned on the field of play can serve us well in other walks of life. Sometimes these lessons can inspire, motivate or push us to even greater heights. 

And sometimes, these contests waged on "friendly fields" can comfort a community that is still trying to come to grips with a senseless act of violence like the one that shook the city of Las Vegas to its core on Oct. 1.

Nine days after 58 of their own were gunned down during an outdoor country concert on the Las Vegas Strip, the hockey community came together to show the world what Vegas Strong is all about.

 

In a solemn ceremony that was part tribute to the "real heroes of Las Vegas" and part group hug, the Golden Knights kicked off the first home game of their inaugural season with the hope of continuing the healing process following the worst mass shooting in American history.

"This game was a lot more than just a game for us. It was a game for our city and it was something to get the people to get excited about and rally behind," said Golden Knights' defenseman Nate Schmidt. 

"Sometimes you just need something, whether it's sports or whatever it may be. It was really big for us and a big step for us collectively to get ourselves back out there."

It was not the opening night ceremony that Bill Foley envisioned when the Black Knights Group was awarded the league's 31st franchise on June 22, 2016. But it was an appropriate and heartfelt response that resonated throughout the sold out T-Mobile Arena and around the country on the NBC broadcast, from the introduction of first responders to a rendition of the National Anthem that had the 18,191 teary-eyed fans singing in unison.

"I think we really did the right thing and did it properly by bringing out those first responders. It was a powerful moment," Foley said. 

"It's a process here. It's a tough deal that happened here nine days ago, but we're trying to do our part and our players are trying to do their part."

The events of the week made an already monumental event take on a much broader meaning. And if that wasn't enough, the Golden Knights opened their inaugural campaign by playing some inspired hockey.

Still, expansion teams don't start their inaugural season 3-0, especially with a pair of road wins to kick things off. Only time will tell if the Golden Knights are for real or if reality will bring them back to earth. The smart money is on the latter. But for now the team and their fans are happy to be playing with house money.

"It was one of the best moments of my hockey career being a part of those two road wins," said 10-year veteran James Neal, one of the biggest names selected in June's expansion draft.

"The amount of emails and text messages I've received from my friends, family, the fans, people that I haven't heard from in a long time, it's been really amazing the way people have been reaching out. I don't think anyone really expected us to start the year 3-0 so it's been fun so far."

Coming into the game, head coach Gerard Gallant wondered if the events of the evening would have his players pumped up or emotionally spent before the puck even dropped. It didn't take him long to find out as the Golden Knights e xploded for four first-period goals in an offensive eruption not felt around this city since the nightly volcano show outside the Mirage hotel and casino.

In a moment that seemed even too far fetched for a Vegas casino show, hometown hero Deryk Engelland padded the lead less than two minutes later. Moments earlier, the holdover from the ECHL's now defunct Vegas Wranglers spoke for his team-mates in an emotional address. 

"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 the city is," said the Edmonton, Alberta, native who has spent the past 14 offseasons in Las Vegas.

"To all the brave first responders who have worked tirelessly and courageously through this whole tragedy, we thank you. To the families and friends of the victims, know that we will do everything we can to help you and our city heal. We are Vegas Strong."

No one here thinks that one hockey game is going to take away the pain of a community ravaged by an unspeakable tragedy, but for one night it did provide a welcomed reprieve for a city in desperate need of a little joy.

"I think the team is feeding off the city," Foley said, "and the city is feeding off the team." 

 

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As the patriarch of the first family of Las Vegas hockey, Scott Zucker knew there was no way to escape the inevitable. He would need to ante in and become a Vegas Golden Knights season ticket holder, even if that meant risking the chance to see his son Jason's games with the Minnesota Wild. Thank goodness for TiVo.

The father of the only Las Vegas resident to play in the NHL joined 14,000 hockey faithful who put down season-ticket deposits even before the Golden Knights were named the league's 31st franchise.

As he and his son, Evan, joined the more than 18,000 other fans to usher in a new era of hockey in Las Vegas, he knew what it meant for the growth of the game around the state.

Zucker has been involved in hockey in Las Vegas in "some form or fashion" for the past 25 years, ever since he took Evan to his first game at a rink inside the Orleans Hotel & Casino. Since then all five of his children have played hockey, including Jason, who is in his seventh season with the Wild.

And in his new capacity as the president of Nevada Amateur Youth Hockey, Zucker is excited about teaming up with the Golden Knights to open the door for other kids to have the same experience his children have had.

Based on USA Hockey registration numbers, the game has nowhere to go but up. According to last season's numbers, there are a total of 1,382 registered players in the state, with almost two thirds of them being adult players. 

So far, the impact of the Golden Knights has already been felt with more youngsters signing up for the U.S. Figure Skating's Learn To Skate program along with several Learn to Play programs.

As Kim Frank, the team's vice president of marketing said, "We started with nothing so we've had to build from the ground, up." 

To lay that foundation, the team hosted three Sticks for Kids clinics across the Las Vegas Valley, where they've had more than 3,000 register to receive a free stick and street hockey ball and learn the fundamentals of the game from local instructors. 

New players mean new fans, which is something the Golden Knights need if hockey is going to take root in the community.

"To introduce the sport to such a brand-new market, and hopefully get them falling in love with the game is what it's all about," Sean Whyte, the NHL's youth hockey regional director, told NHL.com. 

Having the NHL muscle behind recruitment efforts is going to be a huge boon for the growth of the game, Zucker said.

"In years past, there was always interest but there was nothing fueling it. You had some passionate moms and dads and coaches but they would barely get enough kids to form a team," he said.

"Now that the NHL is here, we're seeing a huge difference and next year and the year after that we'll see it grow even more."

But all the street hockey sticks in the world can't bridge the gap without the ice to help the game take root. Borrowing from the old sports adage, if you build it they will come, perhaps no sport is more closely tied to the construction of new facilities as hockey. The construction of the City National Arena, a $30 million two-sheet facility that also hosts the team's offices in suburban Summerlin is already paying dividends. And according to Zucker, plans are already in the works to build another rink on the east side of the city.

"Over the years, we've seen ice rinks pop up around town and then go away," he said. "Having some consistency is going to be huge. This rink [City National Arena] is backed by the National Hockey League and Bill Foley so it's not going anywhere. They're in it for the long haul and having that name behind it, it's going to grow now. There's no doubt about it."

The next step is to get the players out into the community to fuel the passion. Over the years, Jason Zucker has been more than generous with his time, hosting clinics and talking to kids about what it takes to play the game at a high level. And now he has help. 

Even though he was leaving the perennial Eastern Division powerhouses, the Washington Capitals, Nate Schmidt relishes the opportunity to help grow the game in one of the last great relatively untapped hockey markets.

"It's something that you saw in D.C., with [Alex Ovechkin] and how he helped that city become a hockey town," the St. Cloud, Minn., native said. "The more young kids we can get around hockey and show them how much fun the sport is, the better. 

"That's what you have to do, build from the bottom up. You really have to lay the foundation not only in Vegas but all around the state of Nevada." 

 

Las Vegas hosts more than 40 million visitors every year. Some come to gamble, see a show or sink their teeth into an all-you-can-eat buffet. Now there's another reason to come to Sin City - NHL hockey.

Over the years, Las Vegas has played host to a number of hockey events, from USA Hockey's annual InLine Cup to Can-Am hockey's annual youth and adult tournaments.

Now fans of the NHL can make a pilgrimage to Las Vegas to see their favorite teams in action. Here are a few other things to do while you're taking a break from the slot machines.

As if hockey fans needed another excuse to come to Las Vegas, the Vegas Golden Knights are giving hockey fans from all over the continent an excuse to make an extra trip to Las Vegas to see their favorite team playing on the road. For single-game ticket information go to nhl.com/goldenknights/tickets/single-game

For the 15th consecutive year, USA Hockey returns to Sin City to host the Las Vegas Adult Classic, May 3-6 at the Fiesta Rancho Arena. Part of the Labatt Blue Adult Classic series, this recreational, non-check tournament is open to both men and women 21 years of age and older. For more information go to USAHockey.com/adult

The inaugural Ice Vegas Invitational will take place Jan. 5-6, 2018, at T-Mobile Arena. The four-team tournament will feature Arizona State, Boston College, Michigan Tech and Northern Michigan.

Whether you're a youth team or an adult hockey player looking to get your hockey fix in Las Vegas, Can/Am Hockey has your covered. With three adult tournaments and two youth events on the calendar for the 2017-18 season, you can find the one that is right for your schedule. Go to Can/Amhockey.com

Visit the USA Hockey Store at the Fashion Show Mall, located next door to the Treasure Island hotel on the Located on the famed Las Vegas Strip.

There's no shortage of sports bars, restaurants and hotels in and around Las Vegas. Here are a few that are located a short walk from T-Mobile Arena

Where To Stay

1. La Quinta Inn & Suites Las Vegas Tropicana

4975 S Valley View Blvd, Las Vegas, NV 89118-1708

https:lq.com/en/findandbook/hoteldetails.6685.html?IATA=99020739&CID=TA_BL_weblink

 

2. Monte Carlo Hotel And Casino

3770 Las Vegas Blvd S, Monte Carlo Hotel and Casino, Las Vegas, NV 89109

https://www.montecarlo.com/en/hotel/hotel32.html

 

3. MGM Grand Hotel and Casino

3799 Las Vegas Boulevard South, Las Vegas, NV 89109-4319

Website: https://www.mgmgrand.com/en.html

 

4. New York - New York Hotel and Casino

3790 Las Vegas Boulevard South, Las Vegas, NV 89109-4338

https://www.newyorknewyork.com/en.html

 

Where To Eat & Drink

1. Lagasse's Stadium at The Palazzo

3325 S Las Vegas Blvd, Las Vegas, NV 89109

http://emerilsrestaurants.com/lagasses-stadium

 

2. Time-Out Sports Bar & Grill

6138 W Charleston Blvd, Las Vegas, NV 89107

http://www.timeoutbarlv.com

 

3. Twin Peaks Las Vegas

3717 S Las Vegas Blvd #285, Las Vegas, NV 89109

http://www.twinpeaksrestaurant.com/locations/las-vegas-nv/

 

4. Sporting Life Bar

7770 S Jones Blvd, Las Vegas, NV 89139

http://sportinglifebar.com

 

 

 

 

Issue: 
2017-11

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