An Asian proverb says that it's better to see something once than to hear about it a thousand times. And hockey in Las Vegas is exactly one of those things. When the NHL expanded in 2017 into the Nevada desert, there were many questions. Will people be interested in ice hockey in these kinds of conditions and in a city where there was no professional sports team before? Owner of the Vegas Golden Knights, Bill Foley, said back then that his goal is to make play-offs in three years and win the Stanley Cup in six years. Yes, people laughed at him, and some media even called in a clown in the circus. But facts don't lie and he didn't lie either.
The fulfilled promise
The Golden Knights, during six seasons, have made play-offs on five occasions, and, more importantly, they have won the Stanley Cup in 2023. Expansion to Nevada has been an absolute success for everyone. Maybe the rivals of the VGK are not very happy that they have another team to beat, but for the good of the whole sport, the Vegas Golden Knights are crucial. I speak from my own experience, because during January 2024 I had the opportunity to attend two games of the best hockey league in the world in the famous Sin City.
I saw the Golden Knights beat the New York Rangers 5-1 in a battle of Stanley Cup contenders. Then, two days later, the reigning champs were down 0-2 after two periods to the Pittsburgh Penguins, and literally nothing was going their way. The result? Stone, Marchessault, and company won 3-2 after a heroic performance. More than 18,000 people in the T-Mobile Arena had another reason for the celebration.
The example to follow
They were fans of the away team in the stands; they were also tourists, including myself, but there were a lot of local people too. Las Vegas residents have adopted the Golden Knights as theirs. In 2017, many of them did not even know the hockey rules. The VGK is showing how hockey should be played There is a big Toshiba Plaza in front of the arena, full of attractions for fans, restaurants, shops with merchandise, and also a DJ.
There is no room not to be entertained. The director makes sure that every interruption is filled with a short, funny skit, a contest, a challenge for fans to clap or make noise, or some other entertaining element. Even if someone in the stadium wants to be bored, there is no room for that. This is the way for every club in the NHL, because the league has to fight declining interest, lower viewership across the United States, and other sports that are gaining popularity, pushing hockey further into the background.
I've also been to NHL Global Series games in Europe and a NHL game in Los Angeles, where the Kings played the San Jose Sharks. There was no comparison to what was happening in Las Vegas. They say there are levels to this game for a reason. Hockey in Vegas is the absolute crème de la crème of sports entertainment, and it can be equalled even with basketball games in the popular NBA.
The atmosphere, the constant show, and the city itself make Las Vegas the center of attention, now also for hockey. Various activities to help increase interest in the NHL are also evident in other cities, such as Seattle, Detroit, or Raleigh. However, it is not on the same level as in Vegas. It is fair to say that the more organizations go the Golden Knights way, the better the National Hockey League will be as a whole.
Featured Image Credits: Jakub Vaverka