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Last fall, the Vegas Golden Knights took to the ice as an expansion team of hockey castoffs. One season later they are known as Stanley Cup finalists.
The team put together one of the most remarkable first-year efforts in the history of pro sports, winning the NHL’s Western Conference before falling to the Washington Capitals in five games.
A ‘Cinderella Story’ is a sports cliché that is as old as the sports writing itself, but for some reason with this team, it is also fitting.
Brent Musberger is a longtime sportscaster. He lives in Las Vegas now and has created the Vegas Stats and Information Network or VISN. He told KNPR’s State of Nevada the rise of the Knights came from out of the blue.
“No one could see this coming,” he said, “An expansion team that opened at one of the sports books here as a 500 to 1 long shot to win the Stanley Cup and suddenly they find themselves just three wins away from hoisting the cup.”
Las Vegas’ first big-league team also helped the city heal in the wake of the Oct. 1 shooting, which took place the same week the Golden Knights season began.
Musberger said that team meant everything to the community. He was at the home opener where the team held a special ceremony honoring the victims of the massacre and honoring the first responders who rushed to the scene.
Musberger said there was “nary a dry eye in the place” by end of the ceremony. It was the team’s response to the tragedy that he believes made them a vital part of the community.
Therapist Claudia Schwarz agrees.
Schwarz has helped many survivors from the shooting work through their grief and post-traumatic stress.
She’s had several patients talk to her about what the team has meant to them. She said they have brought hope and positivity to people longing for something to root for.
“Winning or losing, I think we had something extra special because our team did so well,” Schwarz said, “But also because of the players and who they were.”
Schwarz said from the beginning the Knights have brought a kind of energy to the city and epitomized the idea of Vegas Strong for a lot of people.
“Our Golden Knights certainly pulled through for us and we were there to support them,” she said.
“That next morning they were in the community,” Knights super fan Peter Lythgoe said, “They were in the hospital. They were visiting people. And nobody knew who Marc Andre Fleury was. Nobody knew who Jonathan Marchessault was. They just knew there was a team out there supporting them.”
Lythgoe put down a deposit on season tickets as soon as the team was announced. He has only missed two home games and used many frequent flyer miles to see the Knights play in the playoffs, traveling to Los Angeles, San Jose and Washington, D.C.
“I think when you see something built from scratch you feel a part of it,” he said, “You saw it from its inception and there were so many people in this community that didn’t know what hockey was unless you went to a couple of Wranglers games. You saw that growth throughout the season.”
Lythgoe has no doubt that the love for the Knights is here to stay in Southern Nevada.
The team didn’t just have an impact on hockey fans – new and old – it also had an impact on the city’s reputation.
Robert Lang is with Brookings Mountain West, a think tank based at UNLV. He said the success of the Golden Knights is part of the city’s move up. He said it sends a signal to the rest of the country that Las Vegas is part of the top tier of American cities.
“We’re moving up the chain even,” he said, “We’re getting bigger. So, it is not unreasonable to imagine that we might have all four major league teams in the city by say 2025,”
Lang was a strong supporter of the Raiders stadium and using room tax dollars to help fund it. He said people are willing to pay to come to Las Vegas to see events in and big-league sports are part of that.
Lang also said that part of the success of the Knights was that people would make a trip to Las Vegas to see their hometown team play.
Shane Hamilton is a longtime VIP host in Las Vegas. He said clients called him up all season long asking for Knights tickets and even though the cup didn’t come to Las Vegas the calls haven’t stopped.
“I’ve already got people contacting me before the schedule [for next year] is out, saying ‘hey when the schedule comes out contact me, I definitely want to start picking out my half game tickets or half season tickets,” he said.
And as for next season, Lythgoe for one has doubled-down on his love of the Knights and now has four season tickets – not two.
But Musberger and other sportscaster point out just how tough it is to make it that far again in the NHL, especially now that teams won’t take a trip to the Strip as a lark.
“First of all, they will not be taken for granted like they were at the beginning of the season. The other teams who come in here to play will know, ‘Listen, this isn’t a vacation. We’re going in there for a game. These guys can play.”
Brent Musburger, sportscaster; Robert Lang, Brookings Mountain West; Shane Hamilton, VIP host; Claudia Schwarz, therapist; Chris Sieroty, journalist; Peter Lythgoe, big Golden Knights fan