Henrik Zetterberg on the atmosphere for the Red Wings victory over the Golden Knights. Ted Kulfan, The Detroit News
Las Vegas — Many people felt the NHL gambled when it awarded Las Vegas an expansion hockey team.
Hockey in Vegas? You’ve got to be kidding.
But a week into the regular season the NHL — and specifically the expansion Golden Knights — are winning big.
Fans can’t seem to get enough, making this temporarily a hockey hotbed — and the Golden Knights were undefeated in three games, heading into Friday’s game against the Red Wings.
“The team is feeing off the city, and the city is feeding off the team and the players and coming together behind this team,” said Bill Foley, the Golden Knights’ owner, at a press conference during Tuesday’s home opener. “This is just terrific for Las Vegas to have its own professional sports team here.”
Unexpectedly, the new hockey team has been something the Las Vegas community can rally around in the face of massive pain and sorrow.
A horrific mass shooting during a country music festival Oct. 1 near the Mandelay Bay shook the city to its core.
A total of 58 people died and hundreds were injured in the largest such incident in U.S. history.
But the Golden Knights have done all they could to heal the city, giving fans something to take their minds off the pain and sorrow.
And at Tuesday’s home opener the Golden Knights held a 58 second moment of silence — in honor of the 58 lives lost — then defeated Arizona 5-2, while also standing together with first responders to the scene.
“What I saw was first class,” said coach Jeff Blashill, of the Golden Knights’ first game.
Said defenseman Niklas Kronwall: “The tribute they did before game was amazing.”
Commissioner Gary Bettman attended Tuesday’s opening night and marveled at the bond already built between the city and its hockey team during a pregame news conference.
“Couple that (opening night) with the tragedy from last week, it obviously changes the focus and the tenor,” Bettman said.
“But it obviously shows what a major league professional sports team can mean to a community, bringing people together, uniting them, helping them heal from a tragedy and showing the power of distraction when there’s a game or series of games.
“This community has been remarkable in the face of what happened.
“It’s my understanding this organization, the Vegas Golden Knights organization, has had its players be part of this community, whether it’s meeting with first responders or going to hospitals.
“It’s crystal clear that the Vegas Golden Knights not only have embraced the community but have been embraced by the community.”
The Golden Knights have capped sales at 14,000 season tickets, and established a loyal and excited fan base that has been starving for a professional sports franchise to call its own.
Most analysts felt casinos would be a key lifeblood of the Golden Knights, buying tickets and passing them on to their customers.
But the Golden Knights say 92 percent of their season-ticket base are individuals from Clark County, which houses Las Vegas and shows the passion in the team.
Already, there is a thought around the NHL that T-Mobile Arena — home of the Golden Knights — will be a difficult rink for opponents.
“It’s good for the league,” Blashill said.