How the Golden Knights’ fans answered every question thrown their way


From the time it was announced that an NHL expansion team was on the way, questions were raised about the viability of professional hockey in Las Vegas. The potential fan base took most of the heat, with outsiders wondering whether there were enough passionate hockey diehards to support a team in the desert.

But as the Golden Knights rampaged through their inaugural season and advanced all the way to the Stanley Cup Final, local fans rose to the occasion and left no doubt that Vegas can indeed be a hockey town.

The fans that packed Toshiba Plaza outside T-Mobile Arena for Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final—which turned out to be the final game of the season —proved that every question had been answered.

Will locals with no hockey background support the team?

Phil Vasquez, 50, was born and raised in Las Vegas, and latched onto the Golden Knights immediately despite having no hockey background. After attending the team’s final preseason game, Vasquez and his son were turned into fans for life.

“I don’t even know how to describe it,” Vasquez said. “We’ve never had a team here, so for my son to grow up with a team is amazing. We went to the last preseason game, and we were hooked right then. We watch every game together; we can’t wait until we can go to another game. Every game gets more exciting.”

Will transplants embrace the Knights?

One theory held that if there were hockey fans in Las Vegas, the largely transient nature of the city meant that they probably already had allegiances to their various “hometown” teams.

Connie Tharaldson and her son, Gary, are originally from North Dakota, and both were Minnesota Wild fans. But once the Golden Knights became a reality, Connie purchased season tickets, and the duo haven’t looked back since.

“We’re huge sports fans,” Gary said. “Vegas is our team now. It gives the community something to live around and cheer for one team together.”

Will fans lose interest if the team isn’t competitive?

The Knights rendered this question moot, as they opened the season with a three-game winning streak and cruised to a first-place finish in the Pacific Division. But even if the team were to slide back next year, Vasquez says the Golden Knights have given the fans more than enough to keep them hooked for the long term.

“Next year is gravy,” Vasquez says. “They exceeded our expectations already, and they have such a great foundation for the next 10 years—the draft picks, the players they have, the players they’ve signed. If they don’t win this year, we’re still looking on to bigger and better things.”

Will opposing fans overrun the arena?

This worry proved valid, as fans of visiting teams saw Las Vegas on the schedule and understandably viewed it as a destination event. But it turned into a positive, as visiting fans helped keep T-Mobile Arena packed for every game and gave added electricity to the environment.

Retirees George and Nancy have been living in Las Vegas for 18 years, and once the former Washington, D.C., residents renounced their Capitals’ allegiance and took up for the Golden Knights—the season-ticket holders made it to 34 regular-season Vegas games and every playoff home game—they found mingling with opposition fans to be a positive experience.

“One thing we did expect was half the stadium was filled with fans of the other team,” George said. “Very few people are from Vegas, right? But it’s been fun to meet people from the opposition. For the most part, especially the Canadians, the people have been great.”

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Mike covered high school and college sports for The Boston Globe and ESPN.com before moving to Las Vegas in 2012 ...

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