By ALAN SNEL
Joe and Gavin Maloof remember the early days. Those were the days when the sports-loving Las Vegas brothers and former owners of the Sacramento Kings were shaking hands with hockey fans in local Las Vegas hockey bars three years ago.
The Maloofs were hitting skating rinks and golf club cocktail hours and sports bars all around Las Vegas to spread the word about fans signing up for season tickets for a future NHL team to be named later.
So tonight, when the Maloof brothers strolled along the T–Mobile Arena main concourse before the Vegas Golden Knights’ historic first home game, a pre-season game with the Los Angeles Kings, the sports duo appreciated how far they have journeyed these past few years. The Maloofs own a minority share of the Golden Knights, with Bill Foley serving as majority owner.
“Who would have ever thought that Las Vegas would get its own professional major league sports team? We couldn’t get one for so many years. But here we are,” Gavin Maloof told LVSportsBiz.com before the game.
Joe Maloof put it simply, “It’s a historic night. It’s one of the great nights in the state of Nevada and the city of Las Vegas. Tonight is bringing everyone together.
The Las Vegas market – and good ol’ ex-Mayor Oscar Goodman – tried for years to lure a major league team to southern Nevada. The city vied for a Major League Soccer team most recently and was rebuffed by MLS.
Now the Golden Knights have broken the ice – and the Raiders hope to occupy their $1.8 billion 65,000-seat stadium by 2020. MGM Resorts International CEO Jim Murren is also recruiting an NBA team to T-Mobile Arena.
But tonight was the Golden Knights’ night, and fans came early.
Sure, the Golden Knights lost 3-2 to the Los Angeles Kings in overtime before 17,101 fans (it took a mere dozen seconds for the rival Kings to score the game-winner.) But the loss didn’t eclipse the game’s place in Las Vegas sports — and entertainment — history.
It was an hour and 40 minutes before the puck dropped and the Arlt family of Las Vegas had already settled into their Row C seats behind the Golden Knights goal.
Eric Arlt, 43, and his brother, Todd, 51, were already half-done with their Bud Lights. They’re LA Kings fans. But on this night they left the gold and purple jerseys at home.
“If the Kings score, we’ll cheer. If the Knights score, we’ll cheer, too,” said 16-year-old Alec Arlt, Eric Arlt’s son.
Eric, Todd, Alec, and Alec’s brother, 19-year-old Anthony, all sported Golden Knights logo gear.
“We didn’t want to disrespect the Golden Knights tonight,” Eric Arlt said.
This being Las Vegas — a city of transients, newcomers and fans with many hockey team allegiances — there was a kaleidoscope of NHL team jerseys in the arena besides the gray and red of the Golden Knights. LVSportsBiz.com eyeballed fans wearing jerseys of the Rangers, Oilers, Bruins, Sabres, Maple Leafs, Penguins, Kings, Ducks, Canadiens, Black Hawks, Wild, Red Wings and Avalanche along the concourse before the game. There were even some fans who donned old Las Vegas Thunder and Wranglers jerseys.
Those fans with their non-Golden Knights jerseys promised to also root for their new hometown Las Vegas club.
A good example was the Bianco family of Glenn, 47; Debbie, 40; and son Ryker, five. The Biancos are Rangers fans who have adopted the Golden Knights as their new team.
“I’m rooting for the Golden Knights starting today,” said Glenn Bianco, a retired union carpenter who now drives a Pepsi truck. “This will change hockey in Las Vegas like Gretzky did in LA.”
The couple plans to take their son, Ryker, to City National Arena in Summerlin for skating lessons.
While the Biancos wore Rangers gear, there’s always Golden Knights superfan Shawn Hickey to count on to wear his homemade knights outfit and leave a trail of photographers behind him.
Hickey bellied up to the bar on the upper concourse to order a few drinks.
Bartender Kendall Aschoff took a glance at Hickey in his knights costume and quipped, “That’s wearing the colors.”
Aschoff had just chatted with Levy Restaurants executive chef Garry DeLucia, who revealed to LVSportsBiz.com that he tried to bake a pretzel in the shape of a knight’s sword for the first home game. But DeLucia said he just could not pull it off.
So, he will survey his food stands to see what’s popular with Golden Knights fans during the home pre-season games and then make culinary modifications on the fly this season. DeLucia did recommend a $13 Philly cheese steak sandwich with prime rib for VGK fans at T-Mobile Arena.
Contact LVSportsBiz.com founder/writer Alan Snel at asnel@LVSportsBiz.com