By ALAN SNEL
The 30 players of Las Vegas’ new NHL team were set tonight when Golden Knights fans Robert and Michelle Henning were slowly strolling across the plaza outside T-Mobile Arena, taking their sweet time to avoid the crush of cars leaving MGM Resorts’ neighboring parking garages.
For the Hennings, the buzz of the night was obvious. It was the moment Golden Knights owner Bill Foley uttered the name, “Marc-Andre Fleury,” as the next-to-last player selected by the Knights from the rosters of the NHL’s 30 other teams.
The Hennings saw the marketing sense. Robert Henning said the Knights needed a marquee name such as Fleury to grab the attention of casual NHL fans in the Las Vegas market. And the three-time Stanley Cup-winning goaltender was the ideal headliner.
“They had to sell the team to people who might not know hockey so well,” said Robert Henning, wearing a Golden Knights gray T-shirt.
Piped in wife Michelle, also wearing a Knights shirt: “They needed a big name. This is Vegas.”
Indeed, the roster assembled by Golden Knights GM George McPhee is a blend of veteran names and young guys with the goal of putting a competitive, entertaining club on the ice to please the Vegas locals while also stockpiling young players and draft picks to build a long-term winning future.
The NHL staged an entertaining awards show that took breaks to allow Foley and McPhee to announce groups of new Golden Knights players selected by the Las Vegas club.
There was a festive aura in T-Mobile Arena, where hometown Golden Knights fans were joined by nationwide fans wearing the jerseys bearing the teams of the Rangers, Islanders, Black Hawks, Oilers, Kings, Ducks, Bruins, Red Wings and Flyers.
In fact, the crowd gave Foley a standing ovation when he announced Fleury was the Golden Knights’ pick off the Pittsburgh Penguins roster. Fleury won three Cups with the defending two-time league champs, but he did not play in the Pens’ clinching Cup win over the Nashville Predators.
Besides Fleury, the Golden Knights plucked Deryk Engelland off the Calgary Flames’ roster. It was a homecoming for Engelland, who used to play for the former minor-league Wranglers hockey team and owns a house in Las Vegas.
The Golden Knights also picked Jason Garrison off the Tampa Bay Lightning roster.
Garrison cracked that he has already participated in a T-Mobile Arena event by attending a Cold Play concert there.
After the event, Golden Knights fans packed the team store, with the line stretching out the door. Thank you Norm Clarke for snapping this photo for me after my iPhone ran out of juice.
Contact LVSportsBiz.com founder/writer Alan Snel at asnel@LVSportsBiz.com