Tuesday night was a celebration of Las Vegas’s new NHL team, of course.
But it felt more like civic embrace. On Monday, Vegas Golden Knights marketing and entertainment head Jonny Greco promised a group hug of 17,000.
He was off by about a thousand, but right in every way that mattered.
The Vegas Golden Knights blew out the Arizona Coyotes before 18,191 at T-Mobile Arena. The evening-long celebration was all Vegas, from the top, and if ever a hockey team was made to look like the old Washington Generals (the longtime foil of the Harlem Globetrotters), it was the visiting skaters from Phoenix.
Ignited by an impassioned opening ceremony, the Golden Knights score three times in the first 10 minutes and the outcome was hardly in doubt. Vegas fans howled throughout, waving white towels, chanting, “Let’s go Knights!” and dancing to “YMCA” whenever prompted.
Vegas’s rip-roaring night opened with a 58-second moment of silence, honoring the 58 people who were killed at the Oct. 1 Route 91 Festival shootings. It was one of those moments where you had to remind yourself to breathe.
A series of first responders were also honored in the night’s powerful opening, walking the blue carpet with Golden Knights starters. In a classy show of support the Coyotes players stood behind the Golden Knights behind the home team’s blue line, rather than facing them as is customary. It’s the hockey message, “I’ve got your back,” and it was great to see.
The team assembled a video montage of messages from such entertainment giants as Imagine Dragons, Adam Levine and Jimmy Kimmel. They offered such messages as, “I’m thinking about you. Vegas Strong.” Kimmel was actually booed by a few fans, certainly for his biting commentary about health care on his ABC talk show. But he’s long been a Vegas favorite, having graduated from Clark High and attended UNLV.
The on-ice tandem of Mark Shunock (who moved to Vegas to play Lonny in “Rock of Ages” at the Venetian) and DJ “Big D” sufficiently goosed the crowd. Shunock managed a sing-along “Sweet Caroline,” subbing, “Sweet Golden Knights,” a lyrical change that feels great on a winning night but might wear thin when the home team is down by three goals.
The dignitary VIP lair was the VIP suite occupied by Maloof brothers, Joe, Gavin and George. I caught up with George, who ran the Palms for years. He said he was impressed by all the upgrades being performed on the hotel, which opened in November 2001.
Maloof receives updates from his buddy Jon Gray, now GM of the Palms, who was also in the suite. Expect a chic steakhouse to replace N9NE, which closed a few weeks ago, among many changes around the casino floor.
Cruising the concourse were MGM Resorts executive Mark Prows and his wife, Linda, who wore a Golden Knights jersey with PROWS stitched across the back, bold in gold, as the team’s motto shouts.
On this landmark evening, what worked aesthetically was ancillary entertainment loaded with Vegas performers mixed with the team’s in-house performers. The thundering Knights Line of drummers gave the arena a bit of an EDM-Hakkasan feel. “O” artists performed a number after the first period — Cirque on Ice! — and the Budweiser Clydesdales and Blue Man Group led the parade into T-Mobile.
The place is called “The Fortress.” As I met with George Maloof, who once led a hard-hat tour of the Palms 17 years ago, we looked out at the ice and into that capacity crowd. “We’re here,” he said. “I didn’t know if I’d ever see the day, but we’re big league now.” And with a perfect record after a perfect night, we wear it well.