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Vegas Trip
Don't bet against the house
11/30/17 - By Ken Smyth -

As soon as the schedule was published, my wife and I started planning for a trip to Las Vegas to see the Sharks take on the Golden Knights. The holiday weekend Friday night looked like the perfect time, and this being Vegas, accommodations were available. Would've been nice if the Sharks had shown up, too, but that's getting ahead of the story.

Directly comparing the Golden Knights' expansion with the Sharks', the Knights did almost everything right. Their rookie (Bill Foley), hired a top General Manager (George McPhee) who hired a well-regarded NHL coach in Gord Gallant. The Knights play in a modern arena in the center of a world-class entertainment district. Gund squeezed the league to move up the Sharks expansion date to 1991, brought along his GM from Minnesota (Jack Ferriera) who's season record with the North Stars was nothing special and hired Canadian college coach George Kingston.

Kingston had little NHL experience and was known mostly for coaching lower level international teams. The Sharks played their first two seasons in the moldy Cow Palace: an hour's drive away from their home city in a neighborhood (then) of cheap motels and seedy liquor stores.

The Golden Knights received a generously stocked entry draft that included numerous players with proven NHL talent and in the most productive years of their careers. McPhee was able to swing some good deals to allow teams to keep certain players in exchange for additional entry draft picks. The Sharks got a weird expansion draft where first they picked from the North Stars' bottom feeder contracts and then, with the Stars, picked from a thin list of players from the other twenty teams.

The bona-fide scorer left in that group was Guy Lafleur; 40 years old and already planning to retire. I expected the Knights to be competitive, but challenging for first place in the Pacific Division is insane.

Enough history, how was the game? The time was moved up to 3 PM and the Sharks played the half of the game like they spent the night off the strip drinking two-foot tall grind-joint margaritas. Looking at the Golden Knights' home record, this seems to be a common thread as teams go through the first time. Visitors might consider either flying in the afternoon of the game or spending the night over the hill in Pahrump.

This is Vegas so there was actual entertainment between periods and in the house (Penn Jillette plus the Blue Man Group). Nashville, they're gunning for you. Also there to pep the crowd: cheerleaders, two mascots, and a drum squad. It certainly beats Sharkie and Jon Root throwing a few cheap t-shirts up into the crowd.

Some amazing referees' calls (if they're not bribed, they're "comped") and a disallowed goal blunted a Sharks comeback and a brain cramp by Brent Burns gave the Golden Knights an OT win.

The nuts and bolts of being there are simple. Ticketing via StubHub is very painless and the smartphone QR code readers work splendidly. T-Mobile Arena sits just off the Strip between parking garages for New York, New York and Monte Carlo with five hotels within walking distance. Plus, there's a tram up to Bellagio and a monorail across the street to anyplace in town. Searching for minuses, the arena itself is more of a 8-10 thousand concert venue with limited concessions and restrooms that got a bit stretched by a capacity hockey crowd expecting service between periods. Still way better than the Cow Palace, though.

Lots of teal all around, including transplants that cheer for the home team on other nights. This will probably be the case for a while whenever the Kings, Sharks, Ducks, or Avs come to town. The Knights' website is playing up the "we're young guys, new in town" aspect which will help to build some affinity with fans who themselves are recent arrivals. The sports bar/beer garden for New York, New York ("Bierhaus") looks like the postgame hangout and is just across the plaza.

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