The Vegas Golden Knights have been the Cinderella story that no one expected from an NHL expansion franchise.
The Golden Knights are a rising star in the NHL landscape. While the product between the boards has been a marvel of modern roster-making, off the ice they are also quietly — or loudly, depending on who you ask — creating the league’s most engaging fan experience.
From piping in 146 decibels of sound off an air carrier as their goal horn, to jousting Zambonis at intermission, to a full-on tailgate outside the rink up to two hours beforehand, the party never stops at Golden Knights’ games.
Kerry Bubolz, president of the Golden Knights, said that part of the pregame draw is the community feel they’re generating. This isn’t just for homegrown supporters, but for fans that have made the trip from Chicago, Edmonton, Toronto or anywhere else across the NHL. Toshiba Plaza and a block-long area between Las Vegas Boulevard called the Park District are where fans hangout pregame. The Park Hotel has several restaurants and bars and they’re all hockey-themed with outdoor spaces.
Want a fresh pint before the game? The Beerhaus has you covered as the official spot for hockey drink specials. If you’re looking for a pre-game snack, fill up on the delicious sandwiches at Bruxie or little more unique dining experience at Sake Rok. Roam a little further and you might even run into Chance, the Vegas Golden Knights mascot. It’s all part of the pre-game party that the Golden Knights want to roll right into the game.
“They’re hanging out in this area and it’s much more like the NFL. It’s like a large tailgate zone of hockey people getting several hours before the gates open and it’s one of my favorite things that we do,” he said. “The atmosphere of people just hanging out… is typically more consistent with the playoffs or an all-star game.”
The Knight Line.
That playoff atmosphere carries on throughout the night. A drum line — yes, a drum line — touted as the “Knight Line” rallies fans outside the T-Mobile Arena and carries a march into the rink pregame. Bubolz describes the warm-ups like a 15-minute rock concert, before a full-on mini-play takes to center ice. In the narrative, a bad guy tries to pull a sword out of a stone, before the heroic Golden Knight knocks him over and pulls the sword out. All in the name of getting the crowd fired up, before the player introductions. “It just kind of creates this incredible moment of cheering,” he said.
The hometown crowd truly embraces the Golden Knights and visitors have been enthralled with the experience. Almost every night the Golden Knights play has had a large following of road supporters. And during the game itself, they “knight” a visiting fan.
“We welcome them to the game and then we ask them to take their hometown jersey off and we give them a Vegas jersey. Then our Knights knight them, and we welcome them to our family,” Bubolz said.
There is obviously some friendly competition during the game, too, but fans of the upstart (and at one point, underdog) Golden Knights are determined to have their voices heard by any visitors to their city.
“What we’ve seen happen is their fans, they want to start their own chant and our fans, they won’t be outdone,” Bubolz said. “It’s made for, again, a playoff type atmosphere, literally just about every game.”
As an expansion franchise, the Golden Knights have provided a viable alternative for out-of-town hockey fans to see their team play. That is just another thread in the fabric that makes Las Vegas a must-visit for hockey fans.
“This is an entertainment destination. So as we begin, we’re a Vegas-born (team),” Bubolz said. “We just started a brand. We want those visiting teams to feel welcome, but we also know that they would make our fans better.”
While the lights go dim after the game inside T-Mobile Arena, they never really go down outside in the Entertainment Capital of the World. It’s what makes a trip to see the NHL’s newest team about more than just a hockey game.