For a broken-hearted city, the Vegas Golden Knights’ unprecedented season was just what we needed, just when we needed it
We were all looking for something to nudge reality to the side — something to pull us from the depths of emotional despair, even for a little while. Five days had passed since a madman turned a joyous outdoor country music festival into an unspeakable nightmare, one that left 58 dead, 851 wounded, and an entire city scarred.
During those five days, we held on tight as the emotional roller coaster twisted past the requisite checkpoints of tragedy: shock, disbelief, grief, rage. We desperately needed a distraction. It would come some 1,200 miles away in Dallas, Texas, where on the night of October 6, the first major professional sports franchise in our city’s history was making its debut — our Vegas Golden Knights against the Dallas Stars.
Very few of us knew much about the group of castoffs that composed the National Hockey League’s newest roster — hell, let’s be honest, few of us knew much about hockey, period. One thing we did know, however, was that our Knights were going to lose. A lot. Just like every single expansion team that came before it.
Yet even as we understood this truth, we thought the same thing that night: Obviously, victories are going to be scarce this inaugural season. But wouldn’t it be awesome — given all that we’ve been through this week— if the Knights won this first game? Sure would give the city a reason to smile again.
And smile we did when veteran forward James Neal scored two third-period goals to flip the Knights’ 1-0 deficit into a 2-1 victory. A second 2-1 victory (this one in overtime) followed the next night in Phoenix, part of an 8-1 start for the new kids on the NHL block. In all, the Knights would rack up 51 regular-season victories, each one more ridiculously improbable than the last. Then came the playoffs, when the ridiculous turned into the sublime: 12 wins in 15 tries, a Western Conference championship, and a berth in the Stanley Cup finals.
In T-Mobile Arena, in the City National Arena practice facility, and in bars all across the valley, jersey-clad Southern Nevadans — many of us fresh converts to the sport — have enjoyed a front-row seat on this most improbable journey. A journey that, at press time, was four victories away from ending with a raucous parade down the very same boulevard that, just eight months ago, was the site of unimaginable horror.
Yes, to the rest of the sports world, the 2017-18 Vegas Golden Knights will be remembered for being the greatest expansion team — and arguably the greatest story — in the history of pro sports. But to those of us who call this place home, they will be remembered for so much more. For being a source of civic pride that hasn’t been seen in these parts since the heyday of Jerry Tarkanian’s Runnin’ Rebels. For giving us an opportunity to display our passion. For confirming once and for all that we indeed are a “real city.”
And, most importantly, for bringing an entire community together at a time when we needed it most. Matt Jacob