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A behind-the-scenes glimpse at the many facets of Vegas Golden Knights game day

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Members of the Drumbots drum line.
Photo: Wade Vandervort

There’s no set time for when preparation begins at T-Mobile Arena on a Vegas Golden Knights’ game day. In truth, it starts the moment the venue’s preceding event ends.

For a Saturday, February 9 game against the Columbus Blue Jackets, that meant the process commenced late Wednesday night, when Travis Scott walked offstage after a local tour stop. A crew of 40 conversion-operation specialists immediately descended upon the arena. Among their duties were resetting hundreds of seats not included in a concert footprint, removing the floor covering the ice and overseeing the teardown of Scott’s elaborate set.

By early Thursday morning, four inches were being shaved off the ice to remove beer stains, as trucks containing the Blue Jackets’ gear arrived at the loading docks and setup began out front at Toshiba Plaza.

Vegas hadn’t played at home since January 23, and after a bye week and a long road trip, there was a lot of work to be done. But by game day, everything was in place.

It’s eerily silent inside the arena on a Saturday morning, but it’s a period of quiet the T-Mobile crew knows will pass quickly. There’s a game tonight, but just as importantly, there’s a show to put on, and an eventual attendance of 18,301 spectators to be entertained.

9 a.m.

The scene prior to the start of the Golden Knights’ game against Columbus, February 9 at T-Mobile Arena.

When Raul Gutierrez arrives at the arena, most of his team is waiting for him. The security desk opens at 5 a.m., and trucks pull up outside the entrance of the arena shortly after. Gutierrez is the executive director of arena operations, the first line of defense to make sure everything is up to standards.

He starts his workday with one of three daily laps around the entire premises to ensure all is in place. Perhaps the most important part of the routine: making sure the building is set to exactly 58 degrees, where the temperature needs to sit in order to settle at the NHL-mandated 64 degrees when doors open and fans arrive.

If there’s an issue, Gutierrez radios the appropriate people at the arena, team or league, so it can be addressed immediately. Gutierrez estimates there are never fewer than 50 employees inside the arena at any given time on game day. That number swells to around 1,000 closer to start time.

“There’s always something going on in the building,” he says. “We run a 24/7 operation. Folks think because the building is dark, nobody is here, like a clubhouse. We’re definitely not a clubhouse.”

The ice needs to be pristine, basically all day. Facilities Manager Bill Falls and his team will flood the ice every hour, then make 40-50 depth measurements to ensure the surface is level. The Blue Jackets are taking their morning skate at the arena, so it needs to be ready for their practice. Afterward, the T-Mobile crew will have a few hours to make sure the ice is prepped for the game.

It’s a little easier tonight, because the arena hasn’t hosted a concert for a few days. But if there’s an event the night before a game, the process can start as early as 6 a.m. With the rink in hockey mode, Falls can take it easy and arrive at 9 a.m. for Columbus’ 11:30 skate.

“We’ve had some time to work on it, so our ice thickness is ideal,” he says, explaining that the sweet spot is one inch to one-and-one-quarter inches. “We’ve got no concerns for the next couple of games.”

11:30 a.m.

There’s a conference room deep inside T-Mobile Arena. Well, today it’s a conference room, but sometimes a basketball team needs it as a locker room. And it’s there that Ayron Sequeira starts the creative process for the day. She worked with the Detroit Red Wings and San Jose Sharks before joining the Golden Knights, and the senior director of entertainment production laments when teams keep their productions simple.

“It should be 3D,” she says, referencing London’s Shakespeare’s Globe Theater and insisting there’s no reason similarly bowl-shaped hockey arenas shouldn’t be the same.

Sequeira shares ideas she and her team had for last year’s playoffs, including talk of tigers and tesla coils, which might have been unveiled had the Golden Knights faced different opponents. In a makeshift office with nothing on the walls and one rack of props for pregame shows, creativity overflows. “There is always someone at a game for the very first time, and there is always someone who has been to every game,” she says.

12:30 p.m.

Jonny Greco

The Golden Knights’ show is already so famous and revered, the in-game operations staff hosts guests to observe it every night. Today, three men from Storhamar Ishockey, defending champions of Norwegian hockey league GET-ligaen, are in the house. SIL, as the team is commonly called, is best known stateside for hosting a 217-minute, 14-second, 11-period game, the longest professional match ever recorded.

Jonny Greco, the Golden Knights’ vice president of entertainment production, meets the trio at the arena entrance. Greco, who prefers to be called the Golden Knights’ “creative coach,” is a central character of game day.

Putting on a show is nothing new for Greco, who worked in with World Wrestling Entertainment (the WWE) and with the Cleveland Cavaliers (during LeBron James’ first stint with the team) before coming to Las Vegas. He speeds around the arena, making sure his Norwegian guests see everything they want and get all their questions answered. He admits it’s difficult to pull off the latter while the arena audio engineer plays music at full-blast as part of a soundcheck.

2:00 p.m.

Manager of Live Video Jenna Veard directs her crew from the control room.

In the control room high above the rink, Jenna Veard is experiencing a moment of panic. One of the ice projectors—responsible for that pregame show everyone loves—has malfunctioned during rehearsals, and it’s up to the team’s manager of live video production to right the ship before the show can continue.

“Of the many different machines up here and all the different software, something is usually going to act up,” she says once it’s back on track. “We all have our gremlins.”

Meanwhile, down on the ice, Lee Orchard isn’t in costume yet, but any Golden Knights’ fan should recognize his face as the team’s sword-wielding mascot. He calls for the archers and flaming arrows to appear on the ice and moves toward the stone in the faceoff circle to remove the sword.

“One, two, three pumps,” Greco counts out as Orchard dekes twice and withdraws it. They’ve done this routine once or twice.

The show would be considered too over-the-top in most hockey arenas, but in Las Vegas, where the bar for spectacle is set higher than the Stratosphere, it seems right. “It’s about creating a stew with just enough of some things but not too much of anything,” Greco says.

3:30 p.m.

VGK fan Adam Dubrow, right, hitches a ride on a zamboni.

Everyone involved has their own way of starting the day, and many work other jobs before getting to T-Mobile. Wayne Danielson is one of the in-game hosts, but he is well-known as “Big D” throughout the Valley for his work on country radio station 95.5-FM KWNR, aka the Bull.

Danielson puts in his time at the station starting about 7:30 a.m., then works through the end of the hockey game. That can often mean 15-hour work days, but he isn’t complaining. “The stuff you get to do, it’s so much more than what happens when the cameras are on,” he says. “It rarely feels like a job.”

4:00 p.m.

The arena is buzzing now. Three hours before puck drop is call time for most of the team and arena employees, and on the western side of the building, in the conference room/locker room, the production meeting begins.

Everyone who’s a public face of in-game entertainment is there: Danielson and co-hosts Mark Shunock and Katie Marie. Public-address announcer Bruce Cusick takes a seat at the table beside DJ Joe Green and music director Jake Wagner.

The mascot contingent is also represented—Orchard, alongside Clint McComb, the man behind Chance’s Gila monster costume.

Greco, Sequeira and Veard are also in attendance, but all eyes are on Entertainment Producer Tyler Cofer. He’s calling the show tonight, deciding what happens next—at all times—in regards to in-game entertainment. He’s stationed in Section 14 during the game, staying in constant communication through his headset.

Meetings between managers and performers are also taking place throughout the arena. In many ways, the entertainment staff seems as excited for the game as fans do. “I’m just thinking about, ‘I wonder what we’re going to do today,’ says Hannah Williams, one of the Golden Aces cheerleaders. “When I walk in I have no idea.”

The facilities crew goes over the ice again, edging around the boards and creating the holes in the ice where the nets are anchored.

5:00 p.m.

As the hustle ramps up inside, so too does the bustle just outside the gates. Parking is most convenient in the New York-New York, Park MGM and Aria garages, though it will cost you $25 per vehicle. Fans park, walk up to the arena and head through the security checkpoint.

But those coming from the Strip experience a walk that’s quintessentially Vegas. The entire jaunt from Las Vegas Boulevard to the arena has become its own attraction. Shake Shack looks like a Golden Knights fan shop with all the signage on its exterior, and there’s a reason folks line up nightly for Bruxie’s chicken and waffle sandwiches.

At food and drink hot spot Beerhaus, there are a slew of Marc-André Fleury jerseys—one woman’s dating all the way back to his junior hockey days on the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles. Golden Knights fans take turns ribbing patrons in opposing jerseys, then both sides clink drinks and laugh. The beers come in disposable plastic cups—how else could you take them to-go?

Further up the Park, fans are ordering drinks at the walk-up bars at California Pizza Kitchen and Sake Rock and grabbing brews from pop-up vendors on the way to the arena. Fans pose for pictures and selfies everywhere. (Pro tip: The best spot is near the Toshiba Plaza block letters on the road, providing a perfect angle of the enormous video board in the background.)

5:45 p.m.

Announcer Mark Shunock, second from left, poses for a photo from the Fortress.

Showtime. The gates to T-Mobile Arena swing open as a pep rally rages outside the arena. The Golden Knights’ drum line “Drumbots” provide staccato beats for the nightly “March to the Fortress,” featuring the Golden Knight, Chance, the Golden Aces and the Vegas Belles showgirls.

Security and ticket takers usher patrons into the arena and to their seats, concessions workers start to get slammed with beer and hot dog orders and fans line up to get into the Armory team shop, where they can buy even more Golden Knights gear.

6:55 p.m.

The pregame show goes off without a hitch. It’s become such a draw, most fans get into their seats in time to catch the performance. Gutierrez, who came to T-Mobile Arena from Brooklyn’s Barclays Center, says the industry standard is 70-80 percent of the crowd in its seats for the start of a game. For Golden Knights’ games, it’s 90-93 percent, according to internal estimates.

T-Mobile Area is a balloon at a birthday party, just about to pop. The bass is jet-engine loud. The crowd is pulsing. The team takes the ice. Even the national anthem can’t slow the crescendo of anticipation. The Knights’ five starting skaters circle the faceoff dot one last time and take their positions.

7:08 p.m.

Big D makes an announcement.

The puck drops. Columbus’ Boone Jenner wins the faceoff, and the game is underway. A few moments later, the Blue Jackets score, and Cofer calls it to the control room, where a frustration clip is readied. Vegas challenges for goaltender interference, at which point Wagner plays, “Tell Me Something Good,” during the review, and “Call It What You Want,” when the referees uphold the goal. A little sass never hurts.

7:16 p.m.

The Golden Knights answer with a tally of their own, and when the shot off defenseman Nate Schmidt’s stick finds the net, it sets off an operations chain reaction.

Cofer waits for the referee to signal a goal, then calls it to the control room. Veard pushes a gold button to set off the goal horn, the cue for lights and animations. None of them are automated, with each trigger manually produced. The control room waits for a call from NHL officials to determine who gets credited with the goal and assist.

“21 from 41 confirmed, waiting for numbers,” Veard says later when No. 21 Cody Eakin scores on a third period pass from No. 41 Pierre-Edouard Bellemare. Once the team gets confirmation that Colin Miller will also be credited with an assist, they flash all three on the screen as Cusick announces it to the crowd.

8:40 p.m.

Chance gets ready.

The second period ends with an anxious energy that predicts a thrilling finish. It’s 2-2, and fans empty out of their seats for intermission.

The Hyde Lounge is the highest point from which to watch the game, higher even than the press box and level with the American and Canadian flags on the north side of the arena. Fans can reserve Hyde’s couches and tables, but no ticket is required to get in. All are welcome, particularly during between-period breaks. Plus, it’s the only place in the arena serving Golden Knights forward Ryan Reaves’ new 7Five Brewing Training Day beer.

Fans in the know flood the lounge as the scoreboard hits 0:00, and a DJ begins spinning music. A 50th birthday party starts its celebration, and the Golden Knight arrives to cut the cake with his sword.

Brandon Flowers’ folksy rendition of state song “Home Means Nevada” is playing for fans in the arena proper, but that’s hard to hear up here, with DJ Snake’s “Taki Taki” pulsing through the lounge. Bells signal that the third period is about to begin, and fans quickly head back to their seats.

9:30 p.m.

The Blue Jackets score with 2:39 left in the game to take the lead, and groans reverberate around the arena. “Do I even want a frustration?” Veard asks from the control room to no one in particular. “Give me a short one. Give me Kylo.” Seconds later, the Star Wars clip of Kylo Ren smashing his lightsaber plays on the above-ice video screen. Vegas goes on to lose 4-3.

9:38 p.m.

Lee Orchard, left, helps Janice Zoll cut her birthday cake inside Hyde Lounge.

Two minutes after the game ends, Cofer commends his staff for a good show, particularly after 17 days off between home games. Greco takes notes for a report he’ll write the next day, going over what went right and what might be improved.

Veard assembles the control-room crew for the sign-off recap. She reminds her people the somber mood in the arena has nothing to do with their performance. “If we won, we’d be dancing right now,” she says. “Really great game.”

10 p.m.

As Golden Knights coach Gerard Gallant winds down his postgame press conference, workers on the other side of the arena are finishing up, too. The Drumbots power down their light-up jackets. Chance and the Golden Knight disrobe.

What happens next typically depends on the schedule. There’s a private event at the arena on Sunday, but the ice will stay in place, so there’s no conversion protocol necessary.

The next week will be far busier, with the Golden Knights home to play Thursday and Saturday, with a Kiss concert in between. But for now, there are two days until the next game, so the staff can take a breather. February will be tougher, with eight games scheduled in 26 days.

From the preseason through the playoffs, T-Mobile Arena hosted 53 games last season, with a minimum of 45 set for Season No. 2 pending the playoffs. Most of the staff works every game, arriving at different points throughout the day with two common goals: providing every fan with a fun and safe experience—and putting on the best show in hockey.

By the numbers

(Yasmina Chavez/Staff)

18,302 Golden Knights’ average attendance this season, which ranks 11th in the NHL.

105.4 Capacity percentage of T-Mobile Arena for Golden Knights’ games, which ranks third in the NHL. Only Chicago (106.4 percent) and Minnesota (105.5 percent) pack their buildings more beyond capacity.

26 Rows of telescopic seating at T-Mobile Arena—seats arena workers can adjust not only in and out like a typical venue, but also higher and lower. That’s four more rows of telescopic seating than at any other arena in the country.

$271 The average price of a Golden Knights’ ticket on the secondary market, according to a Ticketiq.com study conducted last season.

1300 Approximate number of employees on hand at T-Mobile Arena for last year’s Stanley Cup Final games against the Washington Capitals. The number is typically around 1,000 employees for regular-season games, but the championship series required an increase in several areas, particularly security.

100 Maximum amount of conversion-operation specialists used to transform T-Mobile Arena into hockey mode. The venue usually utilizes only 30 or 40 people to do the job, but if it’s booked for back-to-back events, such as a Saturday night fight into a Sunday afternoon hockey game, it takes a large group of temporary contractors to expedite the process.

$100 The lowest ticket price available on the secondary market to get into the Golden Knights’ February 9 game against the Columbus Blue Jackets 30 minutes before the game began. That’s not an uncommon floor, according to the Ticketiq.com study, which ranked Golden Knights’ tickets as the second-most-expensive on average in the NHL (behind only the Toronto Maple Leafs’).

(Jon Estrada/Sun File)

46 Luxury suites in T-Mobile Arena. All but two of the suites are rented out on an annual basis, typically to large companies. The remaining pair are called “party suites,” which are larger rooms that are available on a game-to-game basis and can accommodate 36 people.

$8000 The lowest price available via Suite Experience Group for a luxury suite at a Golden Knights game for the rest of the season. This suite is available for the February 22 game against Winnipeg and can accommodate up to 16 people. Prices are not often advertised and require reaching out to the Golden Knights or T-Mobile Arena.

50 Tons of French fries consumed at Golden Knights’ games over the course of a full hockey season. That’s equal to the weight of MGM Grand’s iconic lion statue across the street from T-Mobile Arena.

70000 Estimated hot dogs consumed at Golden Knights’ games over the course of a full season. Levy Restaurants declined to provide a specific number, but said enough hot dogs are served in a season to place one in every hotel room on the Strip (and the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority estimates there are 70,000 rooms on the Strip).

4500 Man-hours incurred by food, beverage and retail employees on Vegas Golden Knights’ game day, according to Levy Restaurants.

25 Tons of reverse osmosis-filtered ice used for drinks in the premium clubs at T-Mobile Arena. That’s equal to the amount of ice removed during five Golden Knights’ home games.

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