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Expansion ecstasy: Vegas going gaga for Golden Knights as playoffs approach

Las Vegas has gone loco for the Golden Knights. And with the Stanley Cup talk getting serious, the local insanity is reaching a fever pitch.

By Sheng Peng

Vegas fans Janice and Frank Perrino have been married for 62 years. In 1995, they left the Bay Area for Sin City, leaving their beloved San Francisco 49ers behind. When Vegas landed an NHL franchise, it finally gave the couple a hometown team for which to cheer. The Golden Knights have since become a hot topic whenever 80-year-old Janice meets up with her friends, even at the bridge table, and the NHL expansion team has drowned out talk of that other pro sports franchise set to arrive in Las Vegas next season. “They’re very much the talk of the town,” Frank said. “The big discussion was the (NFL’s) Raiders and their new stadium. Now the Raiders are not a discussion. It’s the Knights.”

The Perrinos were planning to make their first trip to T-Mobile Arena, known to fans as ‘The Fortress,’ to watch the Golden Knights in person, but they’ve been keeping up with the team on TV, and in January they took in their first practice – with upwards of 1,000 other rabid Vegas fans. Usually open to the public, recent Golden Knights practices at City National Arena, as the team shatters expansion record after expansion record, have been standing room only on weekends. “It’s unbelievable, really, to see that many people,” said coach Gerard Gallant, who previously coached the Panthers. “Montreal, Toronto, if their practices were open, it would be the same kind of thing. In Florida, we probably used to get about 100 people.”

At the other extreme of Golden Knights fandom are Brian Means and Charles Lynch. Dubbing themselves ‘The Painted Knights,’ the pair paint their faces in team colors – black and gold – for every game, practice and viewing party. “I’ve never been too big a sports fan because I’m from Vegas and we never really had a pro team,” Lynch said. “I dove into us having a hockey team because it’s our first home team. I want to show my full support.”

Means’ and Lynch’s diehard support is one of the reasons why home games at T-Mobile Arena have proven to be such rambunctious affairs. “This is the closest thing I’ve found to a European way of seeing sports,” said center Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, who started his pro career in his native France. “You have two groups of fans. (Opposition) fans, they call their teams, and then the Vegas fans answer either by booing or yelling even harder. It’s unbelievable.”

Freddy Lomeli, a 24-year-old longtime Las Vegas resident, has also been swept away by the powerful, warring energy at home games. “I’ve gone to Kings, Dodgers and Angels games, and people are just watching there,” he said. “I feel like the fans are more into it here. Every play.”

Even fans of that other Knights team, the OHL club in London, Ont., have been drawn in. For decades, London residents Robert and Marsha Brennan have thought of Las Vegas as their home away from home, their “weekend cottage.” Robert has already gone to nine home games. “In Vegas, everything seems new and fresh,” he said. “It’s a whole different environment. T-Mobile Arena, Toshiba Plaza in front of it, gives you that tailgate experience as you walk into the building.”

Believe it or not, Golden Knights fever hasn’t crested yet. The expansion team was vying for top spot in the Western Conference, riding a league-best 24-6-2 home record. They’ve defeated the Eastern Conference-leading Tampa Bay Lightning twice, and already #CupIn1 has emerged as a popular social media hashtag. Can the most unbelievable story of this hockey season become the most unbelievable story in hockey history? “You can’t beat the Knights at home,” Means said. “If you come into The Fortress, you can’t beat us. If we can get home-ice advantage all the way through (the playoffs), we have great potential to win the Stanley Cup.”


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