Tuesday, Sept. 26, 2017 | 2 a.m.
Tonight might be just another mundane exhibition hockey game — the fifth of seven the Golden Knights will play in before the games count. But it’s more than that in Las Vegas.
The Golden Knights will drop the puck for the first time at T-Mobile Arena at 7 p.m. against the Los Angeles Kings, providing local fans the first chance to see the city’s initial major league sports team in action.
“I’m extremely excited,” said defenseman Deryk Engelland, who played for the Las Vegas Wranglers and has lived in Las Vegas for more than a decade. “Since the expansion draft we’ve all been looking forward to that first home game. It’s not Oct. 10 yet, but we will get a good taste of what it’s going to be like.”
Fans have shown up in droves for practices at the team’s Summerlin facility, City National Arena. Officials expect similar support on game night — even if it’s just an exhibition game.
“I think it’s going to be a lot of fun and a good atmosphere,” said coach Gerard Gallant, who has only been inside the arena three times. “Obviously the first real game on Oct. 10 is going to be a great atmosphere, but I don’t know what to expect.”
Goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury expects a good turnout, and there’s little reason not to after the attendance the team has seen throughout training camp.
“I’m looking forward to it,” he said. “It feels like it’s been a long time since the Expansion Draft, so I can’t wait to finally get into the building onto the ice and see the atmosphere at T-Mobile Arena. There have been fans here at practice, but it will be impressive at the big arena for the game.”
The game may also be the most important of the entire preseason slate. Gallant has repeatedly said he would like to have his final roster in place for the final two preseason games to prepare for the regular season, meaning tonight may be the final chance for players on the bubble of making the roster to prove themselves.
“It’s getting down to the nitty-gritty,” Gallant said. “Like I said from Day One, we know we have 17 or 18 players who are going to be on our hockey team, and the other guys are battling for those remaining spots.”
The team announced it cut six players on Monday, including Jake Bischoff, Keegan Kolesar and Tyler Wong, who scored a hat trick in the preseason opener in Vancouver. That leaves 33, and Gallant and General Manager George McPhee still have to pare that down to 23.
“We are getting down in numbers now, and it’s tough to cut some guys,” Gallant said. “We are happy with everybody’s camp. Preseason doesn’t mean a whole lot, but when you’re 3-1 as a new franchise it’s only a positive.”
For veteran players like Engelland who are locks to make the team, tonight will be far less stressful.
“I’m going to let it all sink in over the next three games and get ready for the regular season,” Engelland said.