For years Las Vegas locals wished for a professional sports team. Sure we had the Las Vegas 51’s (now Las Vegas Aces) of minor league baseball, and we also had the Las Vegas Wranglers, and ECHL team.
UNLV basketball hasn’t really been good since the Tarkanian days, and UNLV football is…..well…..they have nice uniforms. All the people of Las Vegas truly wanted was a professional team to get behind and cheer with the rest of the country.
Vegas had been growing. It’s the entertainment capital of the world, bringing in over 39 MILLION people each year. Not only that, but many people from bordering states such as California and Arizona were moving to Vegas in large numbers. The town was growing, and the NHL finally took a chance.
In June of 2016, following a huge season ticket drive and a lot of lobbying from locals, Las Vegas’ bid for expansion was approved by unanimous vote. Vegas was finally getting a professional sports team.
Over the next year we’d come to find out the name of the new hockey team, the Vegas Golden Knights. The team would establish their farm club, and would participate in the expansion draft, securing names such as veteran goalie Marc-Andre Fleury and James Neal.
The Golden Knights went into the preseason as an expansion team with many not expecting much. They played their final preseason game against the San Jose Sharks on October 1st, 2017. The team loss the game, but the cities biggest loss was yet to come.
Later that night, the most deadly mass shootings in this country’s history would take place. A terrible excuse for a human being fired more than 1,100 rounds of ammunition from the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay Hotel right into a crowd of concertgoers at the Route 91 Harvest Music Festival.
58 innocent people lost their lives. 422 were wounded, with the ensuing panic raising the injury total to 851. It’s a day I’ll never forget as a Vegas resident. For no reason, people were killed, people were injured. Families were torn apart and would never be the same.
The city came together. People were loading people into cars and truck and bringing them to hospitals. The days following, blood donation centers had to start turning people away because of the amount of blood that was being donated. The city was shaken to the core but we all came together.
The Golden Knights inaugural season started on October 6th. The first game was played in Dallas against the Stars. The second game was on October 7th in Arizona against the Coyotes. Then, the team can home.
On October 10th, 2017 the Vegas Golden Knights played their first regular season game at T-Mobile Arena. The team held a touching tribute to the victims and honored first responders before the game. The Golden Knights defeated the Coyotes 5-2.
That game meant so much to this city. Deryk Engelland, a long time Vegas resident, scored a goal on a one timer from Brendan Leipsic. Engelland played in 471 NHL games and had only scored 22 goals up until that point. The Golden Knights became the first NHL expansion team to start the year 3-0.
In the weeks and months to come, the Golden Knights were doing something nobody thought they would do, they were winning. They were an expansion team, made up of players other teams didn’t deem good enough to save, and they were winning.
The team set the expansion team record for wins in a debut season with 34 after only 50 games. The Golden Knights then became the first team since the Edmonton Oilers and Hartford Whalers in the 1979-80 season to make the playoffs in their inaugural season.
The records kept coming, as the team won the NHL Pacific Division title, becoming the first expansion team in the four major sports to win its division in its inaugural season.
In the playoffs, the Golden Knights faced off against the Kings. The team wound sweep the Kings and go onto San Jose. The Golden Knights would defeat the Sharks in 6 games. The Golden Knights then bested the Winnipeg Jets in 5 games to become Western Conference Champions.
The Golden Knights were going to the Stanley Cup Finals in their inaugural season, becoming only the third team to do so in NHL history. Unfortunately for Vegas, they would fall to the Washington Capitals in 5 games.
Even though the team didn’t bring home Lord Stanley’s Cup, the team won. It won the hearts of the city. It won the respect of the community by the way they brought the city closer together. The term “Vegas Strong” is now a part of the city’s history.
During their first year, the Golden Knights retired the teams very first jersey. It wasn’t for a player or a coach. The jersey retired was number 58. It honored the 58 victims that lost their lives that horrible night.
The team started as a professional hockey team. But by the end of that year it was more than that. It was a symbol of strength for a city that was brought to its knees. It was a symbol that the community can look at and feel apart of. Nothing will ever take the pain away from the community, but the Vegas Golden Knights tried its best to help the city cope with that pain, and they succeeded.
Featured Photo Source: PBS.com
For advertising and sponsorship opportunities with the Game Changer Sports Network, please contact Jake at Info@GameChangerSportsNetwork.com.