Picturing Las Vegas’ first major-league sporting event in my mind’s eye these past 20 years, I’ve always envisioned it as highly emotional—but nothing close to what I witnessed Tuesday night at T-Mobile Arena. Of course, I never could have predicted that when the game finally arrived, it would come just nine days after a tragedy like the one this town experienced on October 1.
Reminders of that horrible night, and its grisly aftermath, were omnipresent throughout the Vegas Golden Knights’ home opener, from the massive security presence outside the venue to a touching pre-game tribute to the 58 slain and the first responders and hospital heroes who kept that awful total from ballooning far further. As the names of those victims appeared upon the ice during 58 seconds of silence, it sent shivers down my spine. The Knights clearly felt it, too, judging from the way they skated out moments later and began scoring like unstoppable, wild banshees.
The first goal, just 2:31 into the game off the stick of Tomas Nosek, seemed like something from a dream—the exact way you’d want an expansion franchise christening its own building to begin. The next tally, less than two minutes later, felt even more surreal, considering the man who scored it, Deryk Engelland, had just addressed the crowd during the pre-game ceremony, speaking of his time as a Las Vegas Wrangler and his love for our Valley and its strength. When two more pucks dropped into the Arizona Coyotes’ net—both sent there by early-season scoring machine James Neal— before we’d reached the 11-minute mark of period one, it sealed the deal: No one could deny the Vegas Golden Knights on this night.
If the Knights didn’t feel a strong connection to Las Vegas before October 1—and who could blame them if they didn’t? They’ve just moved here and haven’t even figured out the best places to eat on the Strip or park Downtown—they must feel like full-fledged Las Vegans now. The events of the past nine days have taught them more about this place and its people than they might have gleaned in five “normal” years. And though Las Vegas has been home to so many heroes of late, a few more certainly couldn’t hurt. Why not 23 guys who glide on blades of steel?
After waiting two decades for my hometown to enter the major-league sports phase of its existence, I left T-Mobile Tuesday night excited by the Knights’ 3-0 season start, but mostly proud. Proud of the way our fans showed up tonight, with heart and support. Proud of the way our town has responded in the wake of unthinkable pain. And proud of our team, for feeding off that spirit and channeling it into something positive and healing.
Our team. That sounds good. Especially right now.