Prior to the Vegas Golden Knights’ inaugural season, many fans from around the league had written them off. Expansion teams always took some time before they found success in the NHL. Though the team had plenty of people excited to have a professional sports team in the city, it was not sure if that initial excitement would last through a period of struggling for the franchise’s first few seasons. How they performed in their inaugural season would be critical to the team’s long-term success, and the longevity of their stay in Las Vegas.
That was the thought process at least until tragedy struck Las Vegas prior to the start of the NHL’s regular season. How the Golden Knights would respond to the Route 91 festival shooting, would solidify the fanbase’s support of the team for quite some time after.
October 1, 2017 is a day that the people in Las Vegas will never forget. A day that saw a gunman open fire on a concert crowd from his Mandalay Bay penthouse room window. Leaving 58 dead (initially) and over 800 injured. It is still the worst mass shooting in U.S history to date.
The Vegas Golden Knights had just completed a preseason game earlier that same night with many of the players still on the strip when the shooting began. The next day, when the team had discovered the full gravity of what happened, they chose to act. Making appearances at blood centers visiting with staff and donors alike. Doing what they could to help raise the community’s spirit. The organization itself also made massive donations to aid first responders and involved itself greatly with the city’s recovery effort.
When the team went on the road for the first two regular-season games in franchise history, they did the impossible by winning both of them before returning to Vegas. At their home opener, the organization made several efforts to recognize the tragedy that had taken place just nine days prior. The team’s production staff scrapped the pre-show they had prepared before the shooting, in favor of honoring the victims and first responders.
When each player and member of management had been introduced, they were each joined on the ice by a first responder. Golden Knights player and Vegas local, Deryk Engelland addressed the crowd, speaking on many of the things the community had been feeling since the shooting. After he had finished speaking, the Vegas Golden Knights raised a banner to the rafters, to recognize those who had lost their lives. The team retired jersey number 58, to honor the victims as well.
When the game started and the Golden Knights scored their first goal, the City of Las Vegas erupted. The arena was deafening, while people in their homes cheered at their TV’s. After winning that game, they went on an unprecedented run to make the playoffs. With the city of Las Vegas backing them the whole way.
Doubts despite results
Many NHL fans outside of Vegas doubted the Golden Knights legitimacy throughout the season. Even as they had walked away from the regular season as Pacific Division Champions. When the Golden Knights faced the Los Angeles Kings in the first round of the Playoffs, many expected a mauling. Those that refused to recognize the Knights’ legitimacy wanted the Kings to make quick work of the expansion team. Hoping LA would reveal the Knights as the fraud they saw them as.
Even after the Knights swept the Kings, bested the San Jose Sharks and dispatched the Winnipeg Jets. Doubts about Vegas persisted. Only when they were finally defeated by the Washington Capitals in the Stanley cup finals, did the narrative change. Instead of the team having been frauds, the NHL was now just favoring the Golden Knights. With many claiming that Vegas had been given a playoff lineup from the start. Though that was clearly not the case. As stated before, prior to the 2017-2018 season, nobody thought the Golden Knights had a chance of making the playoffs.
Though they eventually fell short in their efforts, they had earned the love and respect of the community. The team had ingratiated themselves to the Vegas Community with their response to the aftermath of the shooting. Providing those affected with a distraction from the pain and fear the tragedy had caused. By giving the city and community of Las Vegas something to cheer for.
In turn, this earned the community’s appreciation and fierce loyalty. Before the season had even begun, the Golden Knights had obtained an amount of staunch devotion from their fans that other teams within the league did not possess. And solidified it with their actions off the ice and efforts on it. As a result, the team of misfits were galvanized by the support they had received from the fans.
The Golden Knights will continue their involvement with the Vegas community even as their Misfit identity begins to wain. That aspect of the organization is likely to endure, even after the final original members of the team eventually depart.
Featured image courtesy of The NHL
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