Jesse Granger / Las Vegas Sun
Tuesday, Feb. 6, 2018 | 2 a.m.
The Golden Knights are in hockey nirvana at the moment.
Nearly every player on the roster is having a career season, and the team leads the Western Conference. Players also say they’re loving everything about life in Las Vegas, from the nightlife and entertainment, to the easy commute, and most of all, City National Arena.
The 146,000-square-foot, state-of-the-art facility houses two pristine ice rinks, a weight room, medical facility, players lounge and restaurant with a private chef.
It’s where the players spend most of their time every week, and the $30 million building makes their lives significantly easier.
“I think we’ve offered an upgrade over anywhere they’ve been at,” said Golden Knights senior vice president Murray Craven, who helped design the facility and oversaw construction.
The facility’s location is almost as important as its features. Located in the heart of Downtown Summerlin, most Golden Knights players live minutes from the rink.
“For me I never realized or complained but when I was in Philadelphia I drove 15 minutes to the practice facility every morning, and another 15 minutes back,” Golden Knights forward Pierre-Edouard Bellemare said. “I also had to make time to go find lunch somewhere. Now it takes three minutes to drive, I eat lunch here and then I’m back home. We’re talking about an extra hour and a half longer with my family every day.”
Bellemare’s wife, Hannah, gave birth to their first child, Léandre Lian Bellemare, on Jan. 4 and the added hours at home are imperative.
Other players had an even longer commute to the practice rink with their former teams. While an extra hour doesn’t seem like much, over the course of an 82-game season, it adds up.
“That was one thing I was worried about when moving out here was what traffic will be like, and that’s a great thing about Las Vegas is you can get anywhere really quickly, especially out in Summerlin,” Golden Knights forward Reilly Smith said. “The 5-7 minute drives to the rink are great. They give you an extra 30 minutes to sleep in the morning, so that’s also key.”
A private chef serves the players breakfast, lunch and pre-game meals on game days. The players can order from a vast menu, so they can mix it up while sticking to their strict nutrition plans. Craven said the players have really embraced the chefs and made them part of the team.
“The players lounge is unbelievable,” Bellemare said. “I’ve played all over the place, even in Europe, and some rinks you’re saying, ‘Let’s get out of this place as fast as possible,’ but that’s not how it is here. It’s really enjoyable.”
The lounge includes multiple flat-screen TVs with games and a pingpong table, which players have turned into a serious competition, with rankings posted on the wall.
That’s exactly what Craven was aiming for when designing the facility, and he believes it’s had a positive impact on the team’s play on the ice.
“It gives them a home away from home,” Craven said. “That’s what we tried to create is that atmosphere that you can play pingpong or Xbox and hang out a little longer. Maybe you stay that extra 10 minutes in the gym waiting for your lunch to be prepared, and that can make the difference. Things like that make it special. That’s what we were trying to capture.”
Players raved about the quality of the gym, and it’s only going to improve.
“They put a lot of work and apparently they’re going to put even more work into it,” Bellemare said. “I thought it was done and it was unbelievable already, and now they let us know that it’s going to change big time and be even nicer.”
Craven said the gym will constantly be changing as training methods never remain static. He also mentioned they plan to paint the walls of the facility with Golden Knights’ insignia to make it feel homier.
Nothing makes the players feel more at home than the roar of hundreds of fans as they step onto the practice rink every morning. When Craven built the facility, he made sure there was plenty of room for spectators, with stands to seat 450 people, but he never foresaw the hockey fever that has taken over the city.
“I think that was something that you don’t know what to predict,” Craven said. “You don’t know if people are going to be interested in watching the guys practice, but when you look out there on a weekend and you see it jam-packed with people, it’s rewarding.”
Fans fill the bleachers, then overflow into crowds three rows deep standing on the ends of the rink. Young fans peer through the glass, often holding signs for their favorite Golden Knight. The team has even created a corner for children to hang out with the mascot, Chance, and get autographs from players as practice wraps up.
Craven will occasionally stroll around the facility during the madness, reflecting on the whole process.
“I get a nice feeling inside when I see those bleachers full,” Craven said. “People get to be so close to these players, and not a lot of pro sports can offer that.”
City National Arena has made an impact on both the team’s hot start and the rapidly growing fan interest.
“I think it’s one of the reasons everything is going so well,” Bellemare said. “When things are going well on the ice, everything seems to go well, but our life outside of hockey is great. Vegas is an unbelievable town, so everybody is enjoying that. No one has anything to complain about in the morning because we have it really good.”