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Out of tragedy, the Golden Knights and the Las Vegas Valley forged a bond

Golden Knights and Las Vegas forge a strong bond out of tragedy

Look around town. It’s hard to miss.

inline-smallSeveriano del Castillo Galvan and Wes Rand

The helmet sticker decals proudly displayed on bumpers and rear windows, the Marc-Andre Fleury jerseys, the gray and gold lanyards, the high-flying flags, you name it.

The Las Vegas Valley has been infatuated with the Vegas Golden Knights since the team established itself as the area’s first professional franchise in October 2017. But in 2018 the Golden Knights captured the hearts of valley residents with a remarkable run to the Stanley Cup Final, and continuous community outreach that endeared the players and coaches to adoring fans, many of whom had never before been interested in ice hockey.

“I can’t say enough about how they’ve embraced the city and how the city’s embraced them,” Metropolitan Police Department spokesman Sgt. Jeff Clark said.

First responders

From the very start, the Golden Knights and local first responders have shared a close bond, and those feelings have intensified over time.

On Oct. 1, players visited different police substations in the valley to meet with Metro officers on the anniversary of the 2017 mass shooting. A few days later, they met with Clark County Fire Department and Metro to thank first responders.

But it wasn’t just first responders that the Golden Knights courted. John Coogan, the president of the team’s charitable branch, the Vegas Golden Knights Foundation, said the whole organization has worked hard to connect with the community — visiting schools and hospitals, attending fan festivals and promoting youth hockey.

Coogan credited the valley’s embrace of the Knights, in part, to the foundation reaching out to charities and other groups in the team’s infancy.

Back then, wearing Knights colors got him recognized as “one of the Vegas hockey people,” he said. Now, he blends in.

“I’m pretty anonymous, which is awesome,” he said.

inline-regVegas Golden Knights fans celebrates a score during the first period in Game 1 of the NHL hockey second-round playoff series at T-Mobile Arena on April 26, 2018. Erik Verduzco / Las Vegas Review-Journal @Erik_Verduzco

Among the roughly 800 partnerships the foundation has formed, Coogan singled out the introduction of Knights-affiliated youth and adult sled hockey teams in the Las Vegas Valley this February.

In partnership with the Jake Kieb Foundation, which promotes youth hockey in Southern Nevada, the foundation purchased sleds for those living with physical or mental disabilities to use.

The efforts help grow the game of hockey in the city, particularly for children who might not view hockey as an option for them, Coogan said.

In the schools

Knights fever also bled into Clark County School District schools. This year, the Golden Knights organization helped introduce street hockey to about 60 local middle schools by providing teacher manuals, student handbooks, goals, sticks, pennies and other equipment, said Shana Venenga, assistant director of the district’s School-Community Partnership Program.

“I think it’s really touched every school individually,” she said.

During the Knights’ playoff run, classes teamed up to put together videos of students showing their Golden Knights spirit. Winners received a pep rally at their school featuring the team’s drumline and mascot, Chance.

“Of course all the kids were so excited,” Venenga said.

Fans also showed up in droves for watch parties throughout the valley, particularly during the spring run to the Stanley Cup Final. They brought their own lawn chairs and blankets to brave the spring heat outside T-Mobile Arena or gathered at the Downtown Las Vegas Events Center to watch the game on a big screen. They filled seats when the arena doors opened for a road game watch party at the team’s home rink.

Heck, they even showed up outside the team’s practice facility to wish their favorite players luck before playoff road trips.

So of course thousands clamored for a glimpse of their favorite players at two different fan events held at the Fremont Street Experience. The first was a January fanfest that was rescheduled in the wake of the Oct. 1, 2017, mass shooting on the Strip. The second served as a thank-you to the fans about a week after the Knights’ defeat in the Stanley Cup Final.

But even a fledgling fan base is incomplete without sports-inspired dog names.

A 10-year-old Jack Russell terrier named Fenway assumed an alter ego — Bark-Andre Furry — and gained fame and adoration from fans and his (nick)namesake during the postseason run.

The Metropolitan Police Department debuted a new K-9 service dog named Knight after the Maloof family, part-owners of the team, offered to pay for the dog.

It’s all part of how the Golden Knights became an integral piece of the Las Vegas community.

“We don’t ever want to lose sight of the fact that it’s because of the community that we exist,” said Coogan, “and it’s because of the community that we’re successful.”

The adult team is competing at a national level against other NHL-affiliated teams, Coogan said.

“They’re a great example for these younger kids, that you can get out on the ice and interact and have fun, even with your disabilities,” he said.

inline-regChildren pose with Golden Knights mascot Chance after during a street hockey clinic held by the Golden Knights for local Las Vegas youth at Paradise Recreation Center on July 24. Chase Stevens / Las Vegas Review-Journal @csstevensphoto

Certain Metro employees were allowed to wear Golden Knights apparel on playoff game days.

A few Clark County engines have flown large, gray Golden Knights flags, and several firefighters are season-ticket holders, Deputy Fire Chief Jeff Buchanan said.

“A lot of individuals that are just huge, huge, huge fans,” he said.

Clark, too, has seen the evidence.

“Every time I’m at T-Mobile Arena, it feels like I’m at another area command or a fire house,” Clark said.

Contact Mike Shoro at mshoro@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-5290. Follow @mike_shoro on Twitter.

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