Vegas Hockey Proves Golden

Hey, what’s a sports article doing here? Well, we are an entertainment website and some things just don’t entertain the way pro sports do. Case in point, the Vegas Golden Knights. I remember a few years ago when I first heard the NHL will be expanding again with the possible locations for a team being Seattle, Washington, Hamilton, Ontario, Toronto, Ontario (yes, a second team there) and Las Vegas, Nevada. Having someone rival the Maple Leafs in the same town seemed highly unlikely, and honestly, quite ludicrous. Hamilton recently had the Bulldogs of the AHL, but that’s a location that didn’t strike me as being big enough to support an NHL team. Seattle seemed the most likely of all, yet they wouldn’t be the one awarded a franchise team for the 2017-18 season. That left Las Vegas as the one holding all the cards.

Majority owner, William Foley II, a West Point graduate and the man behind the success of the Fidelity financial institution, fronted the nine-figure sum to secure the team.  Being a proud U.S. Army veteran, Foley wanted to pay homage to the Army and his military background by naming his expansion team the Black Knights.  The Army was quick to respond with a resounding “NO” seeing as West Point football team is known as the Black Knights.  Going off of the money and riches of Vegas, Foley and crew decided on the Golden Knights.  They were still met with some backlash by the U.S. Army’s parachute demonstration team, also known as the Golden Knights, and a rather small college in upstate New York (whose athletic teams are also called the Golden Knights).  This time the name stuck.

In the summer of 2017, the team unveiled their colors, logo and jerseys.  The dark gray and shimmery gold threads were an exceptional marriage of color for toughness and marketing.  The knight’s helmet cleverly blended a medieval look along with a black ‘V’ for Vegas.  Then there were those white road gloves and that red sleeve stripe.  The word ‘garish’ comes to mind.  The white gloves made me wonder if they should be renamed the Butlers and that red accent was just prominent enough to be obnoxious.  It played into the red star and crossed swords secondary logo on the shoulders which played off of the famous “Welcome to Las Vegas” sign.  Sadly, I was never consulted for the team’s look, but in hindsight, that turned out to be a good thing.

Let’s not forget about the expansion draft.  The team had the unique experience of participating in a method of roster building that was a little different as to what the league allowed in the past.  Every team was allowed to protect so many of their forwards and defensemen and only one of their two goalies.  It was a no-brainer to first grab the Penguins’ Marc Andre Fleury.  He’s a proven Cup winner and Pittsburgh decided to go with Matt Murray in place of Fleury.  The Knights’ roster grew from the choices of GM extraordinaire George McPhee, who previously was the architect of several tough Washington Capitals teams that always seemed to fall short in the playoffs.  This team was comprised largely of players that no one wanted.  Citing the old Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer TV special, I referred to them as ‘the land of misfit toys’.  Apparently I wasn’t the only one with that idea, as Las Vegas would eventually refer to them as the Golden Misfits.  With a filled-out roster and an identity to match, this team was ready to hit the ice.

On October 3, 2017, the Vegas Golden Knights (VGK) played their inaugural regular season game facing off against the Stars in Dallas.  VGK came out the victors with a score of 2-1.  Fans no longer needed to wonder how long it would take for the team to win their first game.  By mid-season, what Vegas fans were already aware of, the rest of North America started taking notice.  This team was for real.  They weren’t invincible, but they were toppling the competition regularly and convincingly.  Even during a period of netminder injuries and performance matters, the seemingly revolving door of goalies still proved to be up for the task while the rest of the team showed their resilience as well.  As the season wore on, so did Vegas…on the opposition that is.  The ‘W’ column continued to swell for Vegas in their storybook opening season.  However, with every season’s progression is its conclusion and the start of the playoffs.  All good things must come to an end, or must they?

Not only did the Golden Knights make it to the playoffs, they clinched their division in the Western Conference.  Their first victim in the playoffs would be the LA Kings.  The medieval theme was in full effect here with these two nicknames facing off, but Vegas made quick work of Hollywood, sweeping the Kings in the opening round.  Next came San Jose.  Not an easy opponent, to be sure, but they became the second franchise to fall at the Knights’ hands in the 2018 playoffs.  The Western Conference finals pitted the expansion upstarts against Patrick Laine and the Winnipeg Jets.

VGK had not faced an opponent with this kind of speed before, but they found a way to overcome the youthful exuberance of the Jets and win four straight after losing the opening game.  What no one saw coming, had arrived.  The Vegas Golden Knights were going to the Stanley Cup Finals.  The world’s most prized trophy was now a real possibility, and in a city of odds, that 500 to 1 chance to win it all started becoming more a reality and far less a long shot.  Enter Alexander Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals.

With Vegas taking the first game in the Finals 6-4, the tension became incredible.  Then they lost Game 2, then Game 3, then Game 4.  Next thing you know, I’m on a plane to Game 5 to meet up with Why So Blu founder, friend extraordinaire and genuine Golden Knights fan Brian White out there along with his better half.  Up until last week, I can’t say I had ever worn a hockey jersey in 101 degree temperatures while walking in a desert.  Things you’d never thought you’d do, right?  Donning my #18 James Neal jersey, I proudly supported VGK at the T-Mobile Arena in this do-or-die situation.  With a 3-2 lead heading into the third period, things were looking like Vegas could grab the first game of a must-have three-game comeback.  Sadly, it was not to be.  The Capitals proved too much as they netted two goals in the third to secure their first Stanley Cup in the team’s 43-year history.  The irony of George McPhee’s past work in DC was not lost on me.  He ultimately created his own defeat.

Aside from the Vegas loss, it was an absolutely epic experience to see the Stanley Cup get awarded in person.  Vegas was tough.  They put up one hell of a fight, but Washington was feeding off the frustration that came from losing year after year in the playoffs.  Unfortunately for the Knights, they were the target of said pain and rage which was condensed into those five games.  It was like dropping Mount Everest on someone who just climbed their first hill.  Vegas suddenly began to look like the expansion team everyone thought they’d be as the Capitals exposed gaping holes in their defense and choked out the Vegas offense.  Reality hit at the worst possible time for the Golden Knights.  With that being said, the Capitals and their fans earned this moment.

Some teams don’t even get to the Stanley Cup Finals in 40 years.  Vegas did it in one.  From a sports fan’s point of view, I appreciated the historical aspect of what took place this past year.  As a hockey fan, I was enamored with the unparalleled accomplishments of a team that truly defined the title of ‘underdog’.  It was remarkable if nothing else.  Their fans are real.  Their arena is a premier venue.  Their success is undeniable.  As this glorious season and playoffs have come to a close, those red stripes and white road gloves aren’t so bad after all.  Until next time, Vegas. Go Knights Go.


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