Tuesday, Aug. 2, 2016 | 2 a.m.
Taking one step Monday afternoon from the outdoor Toshiba Plaza into T-Mobile Arena brought more than a 30-degree temperature drop.
With ice in place, a Zamboni making the rounds and fans checking it all out, the future home of Las Vegas’ NHL franchise felt like a full-fledged hockey venue for the first time since opening in April.
“This is awesome,” said Andrew Patrick, a local 46-year-old nurse practitioner. “I’ve been here for a couple concerts but I know they’ve said they built this arena for hockey with sightlines, locker rooms and all that.”
T-Mobile Arena’s open house was an opportunity for people like Patrick to acquaint themselves with the setup ahead of the team’s first game in October 2017. Patrick put a deposit down for two season tickets when they became available 18 months ago, and added another pair on Monday.
He surveyed the stands, taking pictures from various locations within his chosen section to help make a more informed decision when it comes time to pick seats within the next couple months. Many of the hundreds who streamed into the arena during the first three hours Monday morning had a similar strategy.
The open house ran from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. and continues this evening from 4 to 9 p.m. The total number of visitors is expected to be “a few thousand,” according to Murray Craven, the franchise’s second in command behind owner Bill Foley.
“People are coming in, we’re greeting them at the door and doing our best to let them take a self-guided tour of the arena themselves,” Craven said. “This is our first real interaction with volumes of people. Before, we’ve only had smatterings here and there.”
Craven knew many season-ticket holders wouldn’t make it to the arena, but said they would be able to choose their seats off a virtual-reality ticketing website the team is finishing up. Although they currently have nearly 16,000 season ticket deposits, Foley cautioned when the team was announced that some commitments would likely fall off.
So far, that hasn’t been an issue.
“The only folks that have asked for their money back are people who have moved away and aren’t in the area anymore,” Craven said.
That’s no surprise based on Monday’s scene. The excitement was palpable, as enough people slid onto the benches at one point to comprise an NHL roster while a squad of others watched on from the top of the arena at the Hyde Lounge.
“I thought it was going to do well ever since they announced it,” said Kevin Everage, a 30-year-old who deposited for a pair of tickets. “But now seeing all these people here at noon on a Monday, like families, makes me think it’s really going to work. This city has a lot of pride and not a lot of sports options.”
Everage’s friend and lifelong Las Vegas resident Keith Calhoun could work as one example. The 30-year-old Desert Pines High teacher started to follow hockey only when rumors of a team coming to town spread.
He’s still never attended a game and plans to hold out until Las Vegas’ team debuts next year. Monday’s tour only increased his anticipation.
“I’ve never actually been in a hockey arena before, so I don’t have anything to base it on but I’m very impressed,” Calhoun said of T-Mobile Arena’s hockey configuration. “It’s all accessible, it looks up to date and state of the art.”
Everage recently moved back to Las Vegas from Washington, D.C., where he became a big fan of the Capitals. He found it ironic that the new team lured former Capitals General Manager George McPhee to fill the same role, but approved of the hire.
Patrick became a hockey fan while living in Melbourne, Fla., when the Florida Panthers debuted in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., nearly 25 years ago. He’s lived in Las Vegas since 1997, and made trips across a variety of NHL cities to catch games.
Exploring the arena was a reminder of the reality that traveling for hockey would soon no longer be necessary.
“I think the city will support this team,” Patrick said. “You don’t have to like hockey because, if you come to a game, it’s ‘Wow.’ Anyone who hasn’t seen hockey will be amazed at the speed of the puck, how fast the players skate and the physicality of the playoffs.”