By ALAN SNEL
Oct. 10 to Oct. 27. It began with tears. It ended with more smiles than we knew were possible.
It’s a stretch in Las Vegas history that will be remembered for a while in southern Nevada.
It was the NHL Vegas Golden Knights’ inaugural homestand in their inaugural season. And the seven games will be remembered for not only the six wins on home ice but the jolts of joy that helped a hurting city heal after a madman shooter gunned down 58 music fans and injured more than 500 others at an outdoor country music festival on the south end of the Strip .
LVSportsBiz.com was at T-Mobile Arena for the emotionally-charged home-opener pre-game ceremony Oct. 10. Our photographer, Daniel Clark, captured the essence of a night that showed sports have a way of bringing communities together in a way that other institutions do not.
The puck was dropped after the emotional ceremony — remembered for defenseman Deryk Engelland’s powerful Big Poppy-marathon-bombing-like speech.
And as if scripted by Hollywood, the Golden Knights netted four goals against the Arizona Coyotes in the first dozen minutes or so en route to a 5-2 win that put smiles on the faces of Las Vegans coping with all types of post-trauma Oct. 1 emotions that ranged from sorrow to anger.
During a press conference after the team’s 7-0 win over the Colorado Avalanche Friday, Coach Gerard Gallant said the Oct. 1 mass shooting tragedy had a big impact on how the team played during these first seven home games over the past 17 days.
“Definitely had a big impact. I mean it was a tragic night and our players really responded to it. They went out and really supported the city of Las Vegas. The guys early on when it was happening, they worked hard and they committed hard,” Gallant said. “When you come to the rink for the first game, that meant a lot. To see that ceremony and it meant a lot to them. That was unbelievable that first seven minutes of that first game. I think that just carried over to the team.”
Defenseman Luca Sbisa said the role of that first home game after the shooting tragedy was that it “brought everyone together. And the first responders showed the way.”
After the homestand’s first game, the following contest on a Friday night, Oct. 13, featured the invasion of the red jerseys of the Red Wings fans. Detroit beat the Golden Knights, 6-3, after the Las Vegas team took a 3-2 lead into the third period.
The game featured the debut of the Golden Knights’ mascot, a golden gila monster named Chance. The mascot didn’t go over well with the guys in the T-Mobile Arena press box. But team president Kerry Bubolz didn’t care what middle-aged sportswriters thought of the mascot.
Bubolz said the gila monster was designed to reel in kids and connect with the youngest fans in the market.
During this afternoon’s Nevada Day game, the Golden Knights rolled out a video on the jumbotron during a game break with owner Bill Foley, player Colin Miller, sponsorships executive Jim Frevola and kids reading actual mean tweets about Chance the mascot much like celebrities do on the Jimmy Kimmel Show (Kimmel geew up in Las Vegas and is a UNLV grad.)
The video was a hit and brilliant marketing, as the Golden Knights assumed ownership of the tweets, defused them with humor with the funny readings and even used Foley as a reader in a self-deprecating scene. Brilliant marketing. The team fired out the 2:04 video on social media. Those sportswriters who badmouthed the mascot was tweeting up the video.
Chief Marketing Officer Brian Killingsworth told LVSportsBiz.com how the popular mean tweets video was conceived: “We wanted to have fun with some of the initial social media reaction to Chance and the Mean Tweets was an idea that we came up with internally. Andrew Abrams was the mastermind behind it and brought it to life. We had some fun cameos that made it really special. It was awesome to see the fan reaction in arena and how fans have embraced Chance at every game.”
Abrams is the Golden Knights director of post production.
After the Red Wings loss, the Golden Knights then won four consecutive games — two overtime wins against the Sabres (Oct. 17) and the Blues (Oct. 21) and two victories against a pair of teams from the Original Six, Bruins (Oct. 15) and Blackhawks (Oct. 24).
And a fifth in a row with Friday’s 7-0 win over the Avs.
Attendance was outstanding. After six home games, average attendance was 17,834 — which translated into the Golden Knights fans filling the arena to 102.7 percent to capacity heading into this afternoon’s matinee with the Avalanche. Bubolz said seating capacity at T-Mobile Arena is 17,367, so the Golden Knights are selling hundreds of standing room only tickets.
The Golden Knights’ 102.7 percent attendance capacity is third in the NHL, only behind Chicago (108.9 percent) and Minnesota (105 percent). The Golden Knights’ attendance on Nevada Day was 17,702 — more than 100 percent capacity.
The Golden Knights’ in-game entertainment has scored high grades among fans. Most enjoy the pre-game sword ceremony where a knight character vanquishes an opponent to fire up the crowd. Owner Bill Foley, a former West Point Black Knights class of 1967, likes the sword ceremony and told LVSportsBiz.com it’s staying.
The Golden Knigts drummers wearing lighted eyeglasses with lighted drums have also added a nice touch, with the Jumbotron videos showing well-edited mini-stories with great audio.
Today’s 3 p.m. Nevada Day matinee ended the homestand and featured a very different mood from 17 days earlier.
A new mini-blimp shaped like a big ball decorated in Golden Knights black and gold colors drifted around the arena and cyro bursts attached to the red light bar behind the goals shot white smoke after Golden Knights goals. And a video of the Nevada state song was also played today.
The Golden Knights are now 8-1. A city and a team helped each other this month. The next home game is Nov. 10 as the Golden Knights go on a six-city East Coast road trip.
The Golden Knights played that song again after today’s win. Viva Las Vegas.
“The fans deserve this,” Golden Knights goalie Oscar Dansk told LVSportsBiz.com. “The whole city deserves it.”
Contact LVSportsBiz.com founder/writer Alan Snel at asnel@LVSportsBiz.com