Tuesday, May 29, 2018 | 2 a.m.
There’s a narrative, albeit a weak premise, that says Las Vegas didn’t deserve to experience the Stanley Cup Final.
That awesome display on Monday at T-Mobile Arena, everything from Lil Jon performing to thousands of cheering fans during the pregame festivities in Toshiba Plaza and Michael Buffer announcing the lineups, to the Golden Knights’ 6-4 win against the Washington Capitals, happened way too soon in the franchise existence, if you buy into the theory.
It goes like this (cue laughter): The Golden Knights’ fan base hasn’t suffered losing long enough — never really — to truly appreciate playing for the championship in their debut season.
The Stanley Cup trophy has been around since the late 1890s and needs to be played for by established franchises with hockey tradition, the narrative continues. And not some first-year team which has turned game-day into a ruckus party complete with a DJ and flashy pregame show, retooling the way a hockey needs to look and feel for the rest of the league.
The naysayers will also tell you the expansion draft process was rigged in favor of the Golden Knights to get enough pieces to be competitive, whereas teams such as Nashville and Columbus were essentially loaded with minor leaguers in their initial seasons in the league.
Vegas was supposed to lose. That was hardly the case against the Capitals, when they scored three unanswered goals in the third period to prevail.
You get the sense the rest of the league’s fans want to take their puck and head home. They are frustrated the new kids in town have taken over.
“This is the magic of sports. Anything can happen,” NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said before the game. “Because anything can happen you have hope. That is what we try to give our fans every season.”
In borrowing a line from the Golden Knights, “Welcome to the impossible.”
Nobody, not in their wildest imagination, could have predicted the Golden Knights’ magic — both on the ice and with how the city has gone overboard in support of the team. Earlier Monday, for instance, fans started lining up at 5 a.m. outside the team’s practice facility just to watch the morning skate. It started at 11; they had to turn people away.
And, just think, we weren’t supposed to be a major professional sports city, remember?
“It was so loud out there, even for warmups,” Vegas’ Ryan Carpenter said of the atmosphere inside T-Mobile Arena.
When the Golden Knights finally became a reality two years ago, I wrote about how this was a chance for residents to show others leagues what they have been missing by passing on Las Vegas all these years. If hockey succeeded, both in the standings and community, it could lead to more major sports.
“Let’s hope Foley and his group do it right and make it a success,” I wrote in June 2015.
Not only did Foley and his group do it right, they quickly built a franchise with lasting power. We only support winners in Las Vegas, and the Golden Knights are three wins away from a championship. Win or lose in the finals, they are the most beloved sports team in our city’s existence, even more than those Runnin’ Rebels of the yesteryear.
The Golden Knights soldout every game and are near the top in the league in apparel sales. When there’s a line to buy a Stanley Cup Final patch to sew onto your $200 Golden Knights sweater, you know you have got an over-the-top fan base.
“I don’t view the fact that an expansion team has done all the right things and has been committed to doing all the right things as a comment that the other teams aren’t,” said Bill Daly, the NHL’s deputy commissioner.
Whether you like or dislike having Vegas in the finals, you can’t ignore the bonus of the expansion team thriving. Hockey, a beautiful sport many of us love, has found a home in a non-traditional market. What Vegas has done to bring more eyes on the sport, can only help it further develop.
The Golden Knights are great for Vegas. And Vegas is even better for a sport whose record book it is rewriting.