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Golden Knights fans in Las Vegas come out strong for Stanley Cup

Updated May 28, 2018 - 11:39 pm

This Memorial Day certainly was a memorable one for many Las Vegas residents, as their beloved Golden Knights took Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final at T-Mobile Arena.

Normally a day of travel after the long holiday weekend, Monday had Las Vegans glued to their TV screens at home, in bars and in public locations for watch parties. Many sported Knights shirts and hats they bought in the past few days, or even hours.

Jake Taylor was selling Knights apparel at a makeshift shop outside a gas station early Monday afternoon at Spring Mountain Road and Rainbow Boulevard. Taylor, who arrived from Oklahoma on Wednesday to take advantage of the Knights fever that has infected the valley, said he sold more than $3,000 worth of goods in three days.

Las Vegas resident Chris Kane bought a shirt from Taylor on his way to watch the game with about eight friends at a nearby home.

“Usually we would be at the lake on a boat on Memorial Day enjoying the weather, but today we had to be here to watch the Knights win Game 1,’’ Kane said confidently while showing off his black “Golden Misfits” shirt that cost $20. He predicted correctly, as the Knights beat the Washington Capitals, 6-4.

Dolly Rivera jumped out of her car to quickly snap up a Golden Knights towel on her way to a Stanley Cup Final house party with about 25 people. Rivera said they all would drink a shot each time the Knights score.

At Downtown Summerlin, employees at several shops showed up to work in Knights shirts to support the city. Diana Silva and Sol Cabrera served food at Ori’Zaba’s Scratch Mexican Grill in identical “Conference Champions” T-shirts they recently bought at Costco.

Karyn Phillips and Monica Arbuckle said it was hard to book a table at a restaurant during the game. They chose Dave & Buster’s after they were unsuccessful in booking tables at a few other Summerlin locations.

‘’We go where we can find a seat, babe,’’ Arbuckle said. “There was nothing available.”

Grape Street Cafe offered $100 bottles of Vegas Golden Knights cabernet sauvignon, served by waiters in Golden Knight T-shirts.

“Some people don’t even drink the bottles they buy; they take it home as a collectable,” said Grape Street owner John McKibben.

Strip atmosphere

Just outside T-Mobile Arena, thousands of Golden Knights fans braved the early summer swelter to rally, drink and thump to DJ music hours before the game.

A few red shirts speckled the sea of black, gray and gold, denoting the handful of Capitals fans that decided Golden Knights’ ground zero was the best place to catch the Cup action.

As at almost any Las Vegas event, an Elvis impersonator showed up, this one wearing a belt with the Knights logo, and posed with fans.

The “Elvis,” Jeff Stanilus, has attended home games throughout the season since the home opener on Oct. 10.

“It just been a magical season,” said Stanilus, sweat dripping from his bushy sideburns.

Calgary, Alberta, native Derek Frank, 51, paraded around the plaza holding a homemade Stanley Cup by its handle, toasting against another fan’s Bud Light.

Frank had attended games in every Canadian NHL city, but nothing compares to the atmosphere at T-Mobile Arena, he said.

“This blows it away,” said Frank, who has three of the homemade trophies.

He made them in October in anticipation of a Stanley Cup Final.

“Everybody laughed at me,” he said.

He will drink from it for the first time after the Knights win the series in five games, he predicted.

Inside T-Mobile before the game, the sizable Capitals fan contingent dueled chants with the many more Knights fans in the stands, trading shouts of “Red!” with “Knights!”

Josh Hardin, 32 used hair gel to put gold glitter in his beard and hairspray to cement it in place. He was thrilled just at the chance to attend a Cup Final game.

“It’s like being at the Super Bowl right now,” Hardin said in Section 18. “This is better. This is way better.”

‘So Las Vegas’

After the first period, Knights fan Justyne Gutierrez, 24, took a moment to appreciate what the team means to the Las Vegas Valley. Many residents are transplants, or “misfits,” much like the team on the ice, Gutierrez said.

She has lived in the city for about two years, no sense of community elsewhere compares to the one she’s found in Las Vegas, she said.

“Nobody thinks that your vacation spot is where you’re going to find a community,” Gutierrez said. “But nobody ever thinks to look at the community within that vacation spot.”

Not all who attended the game backed the gray and gold. Andressa and Ted Wainwright’s red Capitals jerseys stood out like a sore thumb in Section 226.

They lived in Alexandria, Virginia, for about a decade before moving to San Diego recently. This was not their first trip to Sin City, but it was their first time attending a hockey game at T-Mobile.

The Wainwrights, both 36, gushed about the pregame ceremony and the Vegas flavor permeating through the arena.

“It’s a helluva place to place a Game 1,” Ted Wainwright said.

Gina Weber of Scottsdale, Arizona, agreed. She’s never seen an atmosphere or game quite like that inside T-Mobile.

“It’s the craziest hockey game I’ve ever been to in my life,” said Weber, a Boston Bruins fan who has been to plenty of her team’s games.

But the experience of Game 1 was “so Las Vegas,” she said. “I’ve never seen anything like it.”

After the final horn blew, the hometown fans sang “Viva Las Vegas” and continued the party in the concourse, chanting “Go, Knights, go,” along with the “woo” that’s become customary at Knights games.

Tammy Castronova, 49, was still processing the fact she has seen a Stanley Cup Final game in Las Vegas.

“You can’t even imagine the hype and the feeling that you got in this building,” she said.

Castronova said the team had given her something to rally around after the Oct. 1 mass shooting on the Strip. She was at the Route 91 Harvest festival when a gunman opened fire on her and 22,000 other concertgoers, killing 58 and wounding hundreds more.

“Just having this to come to, to bring the community together just means so much,” Castronova said. “It’s amazing.”

Henderson Pavilion

Some 2,000 people — mostly families with children — packed the Henderson Pavilion to watch the game on a giant screen under a white canopy. Those arriving after the puck dropped struggled to find parking nearby.

Food trucks nearby served up food, while kiosks offered something with a punch for adults. An emcee riled up the crowd during down time.

“It is kind of cool when you can come together as a city,” said Anthony Saolgado, who set up a tent on the grass in front of the pavilion with his wife, three children and seven other relatives. “This is a different energy we have never felt before in Las Vegas. I am glad my kids get to be around for this.”

Baby strollers were plentiful, and parents took their children — many too young to understand the excitement — to the mobile misting machines to cool down. Temperatures in the valley Monday topped 90 degrees.

Drinking in style

At SG Bar on West Flamingo Road, fans wearing Knights gear celebrated with brews in Stanley Cup-style mugs.

Michael Linton, 32, of Las Vegas, and his wife, Emily, 30, said they never cared much for hockey until moving to Las Vegas from the East Coast.

“I think it really is the fact that the team started after Oct. 1,” he said. “The community came together.”

Angela Talkington, 25, returned home this holiday weekend to visit family and experience firsthand the excitement around the Knights.

“Everyone’s out today wearing their gear, which you never see out here,” said Talkington, who moved to Michigan in October. “To actually have something, which is ours, is cool.”

Contact Todd Prince at tprince@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0386. Follow @toddprincetv on Twitter. Contact Mike Shoro at mshoro@reviewjournal.com. Follow @mike_shoro. Jessie Bekker and Rachel Crosby in Las Vegas, and Gary Martin in Washington, D.C., contributed to this report.

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