Las Vegas Sun

December 17, 2017

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Golden Knights fans invade Anaheim, leave with win

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Jesse Granger

Golden Knights fans pose at Honda Center during an intermission of the Golden Knights game against the Anaheim Ducks on Wednesday, Nov. 22, 2017.

ANAHEIM — The final buzzer sounded on the Golden Knights' improbable come-from-behind win over the Ducks and playing cards fell to the ice at Honda Center in Anaheim.

Kings, queens, jacks and aces — symbols of the city — thrown by fans in Golden Knights gear lay on the ice as disappointed Ducks fans scurried from their home building.

Vegas is showing up on the ice. The third straight division win gives the Golden Knights sole possession of first place in the Pacific Division. And its fans are showing up in the stands, as hundreds dressed in steel-gray and gold invaded Anaheim’s arena Wednesday night.

“I’ve been wearing Golden Knights gear everywhere,” said Thomas Nangano, who was born and raised in Las Vegas and traveled to Anaheim to watch the game with his wife. He strolled Disneyland on Tuesday, proudly sporting the Golden Knights logo. “We saw one guy with a Golden Knights shirt on a ride. One of the guys that works at Disneyland was a Kings fan and he said, ‘You guys really kicked our butts the other night.’”

Vegas fans were abundant on the concourse between periods, some wearing knight masks, some in full armor, and some in jerseys chanting “Go Knights Go.”

“I don’t think people understood how the Las Vegas community was going to embrace a hockey team, and not only support them at home but in our division,” said Jason Griego, who traveled from Las Vegas to Anaheim for the game.

Griego and a group of Golden Knights faithful went down to ice level before the game and pounded on the glass.

“I noticed them during the warmups so I banged into the glass once to show them that I saw them,” Golden Knights forward Alex Tuch said.

During the national anthem, fans screamed “Knights” during the line, “gave proof through the night that our flag was still there.”

It’s a tradition that has started to pick up steam at T-Mobile Arena but one that surprised Ducks fans in Honda Center.

“Everyone is looking around like ‘What just happened’ and I just smiled on the bench,” Tuch said, laughing.

Golden Knights fans who made the 250-mile trip didn’t have much to cheer about through the first two periods. Vegas trailed the Ducks 2-1 despite outshooting them 32-12. Anaheim goalie John Gibson was sharp, keeping his team in the game, but in the third period he finally cracked.

Colin Miller ripped a shot from the point past Gibson to tie the game 2-2, then James Neal scored his 11th goal of the season to give Vegas its first lead of the game. Then with two minutes to play, Reilly Smith beat the Ducks to the puck in the corner and fed it to William Karlsson in front of the net, who tipped it into goal to seal the win.

It’s safe to assume the trip to California was worth it for Las Vegans.

“I’m a super fan so I can’t even explain it. It’s the best feeling,” Nangano said. “Hockey is my favorite sport so when Las Vegas got a team I was through the roof. It’s emotional because of how the season started off with everything that happened. This team is something the city can latch onto and call our own because it started here, unlike other teams that are coming in.”

Forty-seven-year-old Las Vegas resident Shawn Hickey, a self-described super fan, helped lead the Golden Knights’ invasion of Honda Center, dressed from head to toe in golden armor that he made himself.

“It’s great and I’m glad that we’re getting opportunity to do that with a professional team that a lot of us can stand behind,” Hickey said. “I love hockey and I’m glad there are people that are passionate like me and made the trip.”

The traveling band of Knights fans isn’t expected to shrink. If Vegas continues to win it may even grow.

“It’s awesome,” Tuch said. “I hope it happens all the time when we play Anaheim, Los Angeles or Arizona within driving distance. It will be cool to see and you never know where Vegas fans are going to be because sometimes people are fed up with their teams and they jump on the bandwagon.”