How the Vegas Golden Knights Changed a Local’s Mind About Sports

A Las Vegas resident who is new to sports watches their first live VGK game

Las Vegas isn’t known for being the most family-oriented city, but when I went to my first Vegas Golden Knights game as a local, surrounded by fans of all ages, I didn’t feel like an undercover tourist; instead, I felt at home.

As someone who was born and raised in this city, I may as well be a unicorn. We are a rare breed. I once read in the New York Times three out of every four residents were not born in Las Vegas. In the early 90s, while I was growing up in Las Vegas, we only had a few minor league teams, but they were nowhere near as influential as the Knights.

I don’t know much about sports, but I was interested in the Vegas Golden Knights. My curiosity led me to an opportunity to see a live home game showcasing our team, which plays a major role in our city’s altruism that is often overshadowed by Las Vegas’ unrivaled tourism.

Saturday, January 21, 2023 breathed a cold winter night. Wearing our Stations Casino Knights pullovers, my husband and I entered the T-Mobile Arena to watch our first live ice hockey game. The Vegas Golden Knights were competing against the Washington Capitals. It was six days before my 33rd birthday.

Read The Evolution of Las Vegas Sports Teams

Photo Courtesy of Melissa Gill

The smell of buttery popcorn filled the air as we walked through metal detectors, reminding me of going to the movies. We got a bit lost while trying to find our seats, but friendly staff members guided us there with ease. Looking down at the colossal ice rink, I seemed no bigger than an ant, which is similar to the way I felt the first time I stood by the ocean. It was strangely reassuring to feel small at that moment.

My husband and I settled into our too-good-to-be-true front row seats. When the Vegas Golden Knights’ players skated out through a giant helmet, the bright lights dimmed and an extravagant laser show took place in the arena, accompanied by energetic music that pumped up the crowd. Fans whistled and hollered at the players like they were rock stars as they slid around on the ice. One thing about Sin City that hasn’t changed throughout the years is how gloriously loud and bold it has always been. This town knows how to put a Vegas spin on everything.

Photo Courtesy of Melissa Gill

Sitting behind us, there was a middle-aged father and his grade-school daughter. She wore a VGK cheer outfit while gleefully shaking her shiny gold pom-poms. The young girl told her father that she wished she knew how to say, “Go, Knights, Go!” in Japanese. Throughout the game, I overheard him answering her endless questions, my ears perked up like antennas when he expressed game insights. I hoped to catch cool insider information, but his commentary was often drowned out by the spirited herd.

When two hockey players slammed against the plexiglass in front of me, my heart nearly jumped out of my chest. Going into the game, I worried it might be too aggressive to watch, but when I saw that no one was severely injured, relief set in. A fan behind us, who noticed my animated reaction, said, “Gets your attention right!”

During the first intermission, I noticed a mother and daughter, who wore matching Vegas Golden Knights windbreakers, returning to their seats with handfuls of snacks. The Knights mascot frolicked around the bleachers. Percussionists lit up with flashy red and white lights representing the Lunar New Year pounded on their drums in the aisles. Chipper announcers hosted games on the ice with devoted fans and they gave away prizes. When locals were prompted to cheer, they always cheered loudest. It was a packed house that night with 18,251 people in attendance, according to the National Hockey League.

In this lively setting, being from Vegas wasn’t only synonymous with casinos, hotels, and nightclubs. Sure, many of them sponsored it. But it didn’t feel like I was posing as a tourist like I often do while on the Strip. Instead, I was among everyday people like myself, other residents who likely have or still work a regular nine-to-five job, the ones who are still here when the party’s over. To be part of a crowd filled with people who live in and love Las Vegas gave me a newfound sense of hometown pride.

Photo Courtesy of Melissa Gill

Sports overwhelmed and intimidated me when I was younger. As an adult, I worried it was too late for me to learn. All sports have different rules, regulations, histories and statistics that I assume every true fan must know. Since I didn’t know any of those things, I didn’t want to appear as a foolish band wagoner, so I counted myself out before ever giving any sports a fair shot. It seems every fandom has its own gatekeepers and I figured sports was no different.

Ice hockey is a fast-paced sport. Prior to going, I did some research to understand how the game works. It is not typically a high-scoring sport, so during the course of an entire game, there may only be one or two goals made, my husband explained to me. Ice hockey is an easier sport to follow than I expected compared to others. It is practically self explanatory. There were a few times when an intoxicated fan (or medieval maniac) shouted a sports term I didn’t know, but it wasn’t enough to take me out of the game.

Every time the puck hit the ice, it flooded me with excitement. My stomach fluttered, and I would inch further towards the edge of my seat. The massive arena was lustrous, almost too bright for my nocturnal eyes, which made it all feel more like some surreal fever dream.

Watching a live Knights game gave me a natural high. In retrospect, all my irrational fears about attending a game were irrelevant. It didn’t matter that I didn’t know every fact about the Knights. The crowd, like myself, was largely absorbed in the adrenaline pumping game. When I looked around the venue, fans were laughing and smiling and cheering. The audience’s energy was just as electric as the game itself.

Photo Courtesy of Melissa Gill

The skin-tingling sensation of sitting in the front row of a rock concert is the closest comparison I can make, which is still not a sufficient metaphor. If given the opportunity, every Las Vegas local should go see a Knights game, whether or not you are into sports. Witnessing a live ice hockey game in one of the world’s best arenas is one of the most epic experiences I’ve ever had. It restored my hometown pride like nothing else could.

Before the game started, while I had talked to the fan behind us, he said that the Knights had been more successful on the road and that the Capitals weren’t doing so hot this season either. So it sounded like it could have been anyone’s game. But my husband and I were fortunate to have attended this game because the Knights shot six goals that evening while the Capitals only scored twice. Watching the Knights’ victory made our first experience sweeter than we expected.

Aside from the hair-raising thrills and hometown pride, the Knights’ philanthropic efforts are another reason I wanted to see them shine on the ice.

In 2017, the team was slated to play their first official game days before the Route 91 Harvest shooting. Understanding that this was not an appropriate time to celebrate, during the Knights’ inaugural game, 58 names representing the victims were projected onto the ice along with a banner of 58 stars (later on they added two more to represent the ones who died from their injuries). During the team’s introduction, each VGK player was accompanied by a first responder. The Knights stood in solidarity with the town as it grieved such a terrible catastrophe, providing the city with the support it needed.

When I attended the game, a terminally ill child from the Make-A-Wish Foundation stood beside the Knights’ goalie on the ice. It was this kid’s greatest dream coming true. My eyes misted when a reporter interviewed the little girl. The journalist asked what was her favorite part about this experience. The timid kid said, “Being on the ice in front of thousands of people cheering.”

VGK goalie with kid from Make-A-Wish Foundation / Photo Courtesy of Melissa Gill

Vegas Golden Knights’ fans roared with applause in response. That was the moment I realized that Las Vegas might need the Golden Knights more than they need us. The team continues to contribute to the Las Vegas community through their non-profit, the Golden Knights Foundation and taking part in philanthropic events around town like the annual charity softball game, Battle 4 Vegas.

My only gripe is that we did not establish a team sooner. If we had, one of those little girls sitting behind my partner and I could have been me years ago. We need the Las Vegas Golden Knights in this transient town to remind the world that we are more than just a tourist destination; we are part of a thriving community that millions of people are proud to call home.

While my husband and I were driving to the game, I wondered if my indifference for sports could change. Was it too late for me to become a hockey fan? I went into the Knights’ game as sports apathetic and left the arena as a proud medieval maniac.

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