Vegas Golden Knights make city ‘Vegas Proud’

I flip back this calendar and must confess, at first I didn’t take to “Vegas” as a nickname, nor Bill Foley’s reasoning that people who live here refer to the city as “Vegas.” As a 22-year Las Vegan, I didn’t see this issue as did the NHL expansion team owner.

I thought Las Vegas was the way to go, and Silver Knights as the nickname to match the state’s own moniker.

Whew, wrong there. Over time, Vegas rang true.

We suffered this event that was so unspeakably tragic that we became Vegas Strong. That’s how we were, right along with this team that was Vegas Born. All those titles fit in ways we couldn’t have imagined when the Vegas Golden Knights opened in October as the city’s first major-league team. Our team.

It all ended, finally, Thursday night. The home team’s inaugural season was finally closed out Thursday night as the Washington Capitals won Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final 4-3. The feeling in T-Mobile Arena was a mix of exhaustion, sadness, with grown-ups in Golden Knights jerseys crying and hugging. But there was also a current of gratitude, with a final roar sending the team to the locker room so the Caps could parade the Cup.

Certainly, the Vegas Golden Knights did more than reach the Stanley Cup Final, and were more than just the most successful expansion franchise ever in pro sports. Though the achievements are enough reason to celebrate this team.

But the team’s impact on the community, the way it electrified the community as a single entity, simply can’t be underestimated. I work my way around town nightly (and if you follow my social media chronicles, you understand what I’m talking about). Ever since this team took the ice, it has been the primary topic of conversation in every social event, show opening, fundraising gala, dinner party and lounge performance I have attended since last fall.

Examples abound. During the team’s second-round series against the San Jose Sharks, one friend told me, “This gives me something to talk to my neighbor about.” Another, “I have watched three Golden Knights games this year, and I really believe I can be a color commentator.”

And, when the Golden Knights were taking a break after winning the Western Conference Final over the Winnipeg Jets, a buddy told me, “My wife asked me if I’d DVR’d the game tonight. I said, ‘We’re not playing! We’ve already won the series! And she says, ‘No, no, the Lightning-Capitals game!’”

That’s serious investment in the Eastern Conference Final, which of course produced the team that finally solved the Golden Knights. And like so many fans in Vegas, this couple had never seen an NHL game in person until the team opened in October.

Figures that seemed to defy fiction are now familiar to Las Vegans. I know a lot of singers in this city, but I had never heard of Carnell “Golden Pipes” Johnson until he started performing the national anthem at T-Mobile in February. I thought, “Who is this?” A gondolier for seven years at the Canal Shoppes at true underdog personality who only sang the anthem for the game against the Chicago Blackhawks on Feb. 13 as a late fill-in. He then sang the anthem 14 times. In the face of superstars who took to Twitter to lobby for an anthem spot in the playoffs, Johnson sang before every postseason game.

In what is already a slice of Golden Knights lore, the team preferred its singing skipper to superstar Carrie Underwood. Vegas entertainers got a kick out of that decision, believe it.

We got to know them all: The Knight Line (by Drumbots, don’t forget). Chance the gila monster, whose familiar image might well-inspire costumed buskers in front of Bellagio Fountains by next season. The Golden Knight who was undefeated against opposing characters to open the game. Animated in-house emcees Big D and Mark Shunock tirelessly imploring us to “Make some noise!” A wave of celebrity siren crankers (Penn Jillette one night; Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top the next). Blue Man Group parading up the aisles as Cirque performers spun across the ice.

In what would be the team’s sendoff, the Gazillionaire from “Absinthe” summoned the juggling trio Water On Mars because that is how Vegas makes a scene.

The team was not all shtick, though. It’s deft-yet-powerful handling of Oct. 1 was note perfect. The rollout of the names of the 58 victims on the vast LED screen during the season opener was one of those moments where you had to remember to breathe. Thursday the place came apart once more for the final Vegas Strong hero of the Game, Clark County Undersheriff Kevin McMahill.

Vegas Strong. Vegas Born. Vegas Golden Knights. We never saw it coming, we might never experience this again, but this team made this town proud. Vegas Proud.

John Katsilometes’ column runs daily in the A section. Contact him at jkatsilometes@reviewjournal.com. Follow @johnnykats on Twitter, @JohnnyKats1 on Instagram.

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