LAS VEGAS — You don’t have to shell out the hundreds of dollars for tickets to experience what makes the Vegas Golden Knights different than any other team in the NHL.
You just have to make the drive to practice.
An atmosphere normally policed, if not made impenetrable, in most NHL rinks is replaced with an incredibly relaxed and welcoming experience in Vegas. There are no tickets sold, no media passes handed out at the door and certainly no security personnel just waiting for their chance to outstretch a hand and deny access.
(They love doing that, don’t they?)
Instead, everyone is welcome, everyone is appreciated.
It’s a striking atmosphere for someone touring City National Arena in Summerlin for the first time; this is far from standard practice in professional sports. And though the players have seen this sort of support long before they established themselves as one of the league’s elite teams and knocked off two division foes to reach the conference final in their expansion season, it’s not lost on them either.
You don’t get used to fans packing the seats to see you put on a light sweat, let alone cheer for your first few strides.
“Our support here is incredible,” said defenseman Nate Schmidt.
“I only know what it’s like for two teams in the league, but every day (here) it’s awesome. They give us a little cheer when we get on the ice, too. Gives you a little pep in your step before practice.”
For the fans, though, it’s beyond the encouragement, or the chance to catch a glimpse of their favourite player, or to gain insight on the systems and strategies employed by Gerard Gallant, or just to flat-out enjoy the Golden Knights’ hallmark uptempo practice. And to that, it’s more than celebrating community and supporting the hockey team that has helped galvanize the city these people are so proud to call home.
This is really the place to be, man.
From the DJ spinning tunes as fans file through the sliding doors, to cheerleaders ready to pose for a photo, the Golden Knights-branded Lamborghini parked outside, and of course the omnipresence of celebrity pooch Bark-Andre Furry, the Golden Knights’ morning skate — a light hockey practice — has established itself among the many spectacles Las Vegas has to offer.
It’s a good enough reason to skip work three times in a week like one fan gladly boasted. And for the transplanted Western New Yorker decked out in VGK merchandise who doesn’t miss a single skate and can tell you the make and model of every car that pulls out of the players’ parking lot, it hasn’t gotten stale for even one second.
There’s something for everyone at Golden Knights practice. Hell, if you were so inclined, you could talk shop with one of the executives watching freely amongst the fans.
In a city like Vegas, which has too much entertainment to even sort through, it’s a 30-minute hockey practice with adecidedly community feel that’s considered can’t-miss — and unlike anything you will see in an NHL rink.
Who would have thought it?
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