weather icon Clear

Las Vegas caught Knights fever during historic inaugural season

Updated December 29, 2018 - 7:35 pm

There isn’t a soul alive who looked at the assortment of castoffs and retreads who made up the Vegas Golden Knights’ opening-day roster and said, “Yep, that’s a Stanley Cup finalist.”

That’s what made the “Golden Misfits” label so endearing.

But while national pundits expected the worst from the team — along with indifference from the city — they tended to agree on one other prediction: It’s Vegas, so at least the games will be entertaining.

They had no idea.

Pregame pandemonium

Just as the National Hockey League had never seen anything like the Golden Knights, hockey purists had no idea what to make of the team’s bonkers pregame show that only grew more over the top with each playoff victory. During his on-ice battles against a stand-in for the opposition, The Golden Knight was backed up by everything from archers to a catapult. Against Winnipeg, he sliced a military jet in half. The brainchild of Jonny Greco, the team’s vice president of entertainment production who was hired away from the WWE, the shows were part “Tournament of Kings,” part “Disney on Ice,” part mild hallucinogen. Just how radical a departure were they from traditional pregame ceremonies? For the Washington Capitals’ first Stanley Cup Final home game in 20 years, the team called on “Wheel of Fortune” host Pat Sajak to ramble on about how much he likes his season tickets and read the starting lineups from a sheet of paper. It was HORR_FY_NG.

inline-regThe Golden Knight battles the Capitals villain before the start of Game 2 of the NHL Stanley Cup Final between the Golden Knights and Washington Capitals on Wednesday, May 30, 2018, in Las Vegas. (Benjamin Hager/Las Vegas Review-Journal)

Jersey sure

By the time the team rolled into the playoffs, there was plenty of room on the Golden Knights’ bandwagon — especially if you happened to have a band. Celine Dion began wearing a Marc-Andre Fleury sweater — that’s hockey talk for “jersey” — as a dress during the “River Deep, Mountain High” portion of her show. Terry Fator and his puppet Duggie Scott Walker donned VGK sweaters while performing their take on “What a Wonderful World,” dubbed “A Stanley Cup World.” The Australian Bee Gees wrapped themselves in team gear and rechristened “Night Fever” as “Golden Knights Fever.” The casts of “Fantasy” and “X Burlesque” even covered themselves up — albeit temporarily — with jerseys. The Fountains of Bellagio got into the act, too, cueing up “Viva Las Vegas” after victories.

inline-regCeline Dion, shown with guitarist Kaven Girouard, sports a Marc-Andre Fleury Vegas Golden Knights jersey during her return to the Colosseum at Caesars Palace after minor ear surgery on Tuesday, May 22, 2018. (Cashman Photo)

Big names, big games

To kick off Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final, Blink-182’s Travis Barker led the Knight Line drummers into Toshiba Plaza for a performance by Golden Knights superfan Lil Jon, who returned to that stage five days later to ignite the overflow crowd at the Game 3 watch party. In between, Imagine Dragons hit the ice for “Whatever It Takes” before Game 2. And before Game 5, Panic! At the Disco made a splash — literally — performing “High Hopes” on the lake in front of the Fountains of Bellagio when a gust of wind caught the airborne water and soaked the band.

inline-regFrontman Brendon Urie, center, and members of the Las Vegas rock band Panic! at the Disco perform at the Fountains at Bellagio ahead of the Vegas Golden Knights-Washington Capitals NHL hockey game at T-Mobile Arena Thursday, June 7, 2018. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal)

Anthem allegiance

The Golden Knights’ romp into the postseason was one of the greatest underdog stories of all time. So, naturally, when the team was on the verge of its biggest stage yet, management essentially told country superstar Carrie Underwood, “Thanks, but we’re sticking with the singing gondolier who got us here.” Carnell Johnson, known as “Golden Pipes,” wasn’t the Knights’ first national anthem singer — or even its 20th. But once the man with the day job at The Venetian made his T-Mobile Arena debut Feb. 13, he did everything in his power — and with his powerful voice — to make sure he was their last. Shortly after Underwood’s husband, center Mike Fisher, and the Nashville Predators were bounced from the playoffs by the Winnipeg Jets, the singer declared her allegiance to Vegas in a series of tweets that included an offer: “If the @GoldenKnights need an anthem singer, I’m 2-0 in the playoffs…just saying.” Unfortunately for her, Johnson was 4-1 at the time, en route to a 7-3 overall record as the team’s only postseason anthem singer.

inline-regCarnell Johnson, AKA Golden Pipes, performs the national anthem before the start of the NHL Western Conference Finals between the Golden Knights and Winnipeg Jets on Friday, May 18, 2018, at T-Mobile Arena, in Las Vegas. (Benjamin Hager/Las Vegas Review-Journal)

Ratings routs

Whether you were at home, crowded into one of the variety of watch parties or lucky enough — and or/wealthy enough — to score tickets, you couldn’t get enough of the Golden Knights during the playoffs. A staggering 28.1 percent of Las Vegas households with televisions watched Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final, compared with just 16 percent in Washington. When the Sharks made the 2016 Final, San Jose mustered a meager 5.3 percent. Of everything aired on NBC in recent years, only the Super Bowl attracted more Las Vegans, with 42.6 percent watching this year. The last time any series on any network finished a season with national numbers higher than Game 1’s local rating was in 1987 with “The Cosby Show” (34.2 percent) and “Family Ties” (32.7 percent). They might not be able to topple Michael J. Fox, but if there were some sort of redo, there’s a decent chance the Knights would prove more popular than Bill Cosby. Just saying.

inline-regFans attend a Vegas Golden Knights watch party for game six of the Stanley Cup playoffs outside on Toshiba Plaza in Las Vegas on Sunday, May 6, 2018. (Andrea Cornejo/Las Vegas Review-Journal)

VGK gear in high places

During the heat of the playoffs — seriously, it topped 100 degrees at some outdoor watch parties — seemingly everyone was wearing a Golden Knights sweater. This included the Statue of Liberty at New York-New York — sporting a 600-pound, 28-foot version — and her confectionery doppelganger at Hershey’s Chocolate World, as well as the Benny Binion statue at the South Point. Not to be outdone, the Julius Caesar statue in front of Caesars Palace picked up a hockey stick and Golden Knights flag, while the nearby pedestrian bridge boasted a 6-foot “Vegas Born” puck. With the addition of a team crest on its chest and a massive puck nearby, the MGM Grand lion completed a near sweep of Strip landmarks covered in VGK gear. Your move, Eiffel Tower.

inline-regWorkers install a Vegas Golden Knights jersey on the Statue of Liberty at New York New York on Friday, April 13, 2018, in Las Vegas. (Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas Review-Journal)

A host for the ages

Mark Shunock, who co-hosts the team’s in-game entertainment, grew up playing hockey in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario — birthplace of Hall of Fame brothers Phil and Tony Esposito, as well as Golden Knights defenseman Colin Miller — and made it to the Canadian Hockey League. Far more than just the guy who coined the phrase “It’s Knight Time,” Shunock’s resume as an entertainer is even more impressive: He’s performed in the Las Vegas productions of “Rock of Ages” and “Magic Mike Live” and created “Mondays Dark,” the twice-monthly philanthropic production that’s raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for local charities. With that level of commitment to entertainment, it’s a wonder the team didn’t hire contortionists as ushers and showgirls as beer vendors.

inline-regMark Shunock at The Fortress inside T-Mobile Arena (@MarkShunock/Twitter)

The Review-Journal is owned by the family of Las Vegas Sands Corp. Chairman and CEO Sheldon Adelson. Las Vegas Sands operates The Venetian.

Contact Christopher Lawrence at clawrence@reviewjournal.com or 702-380-4567. Follow @life_onthecouch on Twitter.

Don't miss the big stories. Like us on Facebook.
Golden Knights Videos
Vegas Golden Knights President Kerry Bubolz on the Golden Edge Podcast
Review-Journal reporters Ben Gotz and David Schoen talk with Golden Knights president Kerry Bubolz about his experiences with LeBron James, the team's new initiatives, a possible MLS expansion team and more.
George McPhee Conference Call on Nikita Gusev trade - VIDEO
Golden Knights President of Operations George McPhee answers questions on a conference call about the teams most recent trade of Nikita Gusev to the New Jersey Devils.
Vegas Golden Knight's Deryk Engelland Happy to Re-Sign - Video
Vegas Golden Knights defenseman Deryk Engelland is happy to stay in Las Vegas after signing a one-year deal with the team.
Golden Aces hold Tryouts For 2019-2020 Season - Video
The Golden Aces hold tryouts for the 2019-2020 season for the Golden Knights.
Golden Knight's owner Bill Foley's House for sale in The Ridges - Real Estate Millions
Vegas Golden Knights, Fleury Make Day for Critically Ill Teenager in ESPN “My Wish” - Video
A 13-year-old Las Vegas boy who has faced Hodgkin’s lymphoma is treated to a special day by the NHL’s Vegas Golden Knights in a new ESPN “My Wish” Series feature debuting Wednesday, July 17, on SportsCenter. In the feature, Doron Coldwell spends a day with the team and even gets an opportunity to replace his favorite player, three-time Stanley Cup winner Marc-Andre Fleury, in the net.
Golden Knights Sell "Battle Worn Armor" To Season Ticket Holders - Video
The Golden Knights sell their "battle worn" apparel throughout both of the teams seasons including pucks, sticks, helmets and skates.
Summerlin 4th of July Parade - VIDEO
On July 4th Summerlin will be hosting the 25th annual Summerlin Council Patriotic Parade, an event that has grown massively over the years
Golden Knights McPhee talks on the first day of NHL free agency - VIDEO
Golden Knights incoming president of operations George McPhee addresses the media as free agency starts.
Golden Knights Trade Colin Miller as Development Camp ends - VIDEO
George McPhee speaks to the media following the end of the Golden Knights development camp.
Golden Knights Development Camp Day 4 - VIDEO
Nic Hague stands out at day 4 of Golden Knights development camp.
Golden Knights Hold First Scrimmage of Development Camp - Video
The first of three scrimmages was held at the 2019 Golden Knights Development Camp. Golden Edge host Cassie Soto and Golden Knights beat writers Adam Hill and David Schoen discuss what stood out to them.
Golden Knights George McPhee Discusses Erik Haula Trade - Video
A day after it was announced that Erik Haula had been traded to the Carolina Hurricanes, incoming President of Hockey Operations George McPhee spoke to the media discussing the move.
Golden Knights Trade Erik Haula - Video
The Golden Knights have traded Erik Haula to the Carolina Hurricanes in exchange for prospect Nicolas Roy. Golden Edge host Cassie Soto and Golden Knights beat writer Adam Hill discuss the trade.
Golden Knights Coaches Looking for Veterans to Step Up in Development Camp - Video
Day two of the 2019 Golden Knights Development Camp is in the books. Director of Player Development Wil Nichol says his staff is looking for the veterans of the camp to step up and be leaders to the younger guys, while at the same time doing their best to impress the coaching staff.
Golden Knights Draft Player with Strong Hockey Bloodlines - Video
The Golden Knights drafted Mason Primeau in the 5th round of the 2019 NHL Draft. Primeau is no stranger to professional hockey, both his dad (Wayne Primeau) and his uncle (Keith Primeau) played in the NHL.
Golden Knights Kelly McCrimmon Talks Development Camp - VIDEO
Golden Knights general manager Kelly McCrimmon talks about what he expects from everyone at development camp on their first day.
Golden Knights Dylan Coghlan On Veteran Experience - VIDEO
Golden Knights defenseman Dylan Coghlan talks about his veteran experience playing in Chicago and development camp.
Golden Knights President George McPhee talks about Williams Karlsson's 8 year deal
George McPhee presser highlights June 25, 2019.
Golden Knights Center William Karlsson speaks to media about 8 year contract
William Karlsson presser highlights June 25, 2019.
Golden Knights Development Camp at Catholic Charities of Southern Nevada
For the third consecutive year, Vegas Golden Knights Development Camp participants participated in a special community event at Catholic Charities of Southern Nevada in Las Vegas. (Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @bizutesfaye
2019 NHL Awards Highlight Video
The 2019 NHL Awards took place at the Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas on Wednesday night. Though Vegas Golden Knights forward Mark Stone came close to winning the best defensive forward trophy, St. Louis Blues center Ryan O' Reilly took home the coveted Frank Selke Trophy. Jason Zucker, who was raised in Las Vegas and plays for the Minnesota Wild, accepted the King Clancy Memorial Trophy for leadership and humanitarianism. Tampa Bay Lightning's Nikita Kucherov took home the NHL's MVP Award. (Heidi Fang / Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Gary Bettman discusses NHL rule changes - VIDEO
NHL commissioner Gary Bettman addressed the media after Wednesday’s Board of Governor’s meeting.
Golden Knights' Mark Stone up for Selke Trophy
Golden Knights right wing Mark Stone is a finalist for the Selke Trophy. The award goes to the best defensive forward in the NHL. Stone led the league in takeaways last season with 122. His competition is St. Louis Blues center Ryan O'Reilly... And Boston Bruins center Patrice Bergeron. Stone will find out if he wins Wednesday at the NHL Awards.
Vegas Golden Knights announce preseason schedule
The Golden Knights announced their preseason schedule Tuesday, as well as the date of their rookie camp and training camp.
Mark Stone and Stanley Cup visit MGM Grand
Mark Stone took photos and signed autographs for Golden Knights fans at the MGM Grand on Sunday. The Stanley Cup also made its way into the MGM Grand Main Lobby. The most revered trophy in hockey is on display to celebrate the upcoming 2019 NHL awards at the Mandalay Bay Center on June 19th. (Nathan Asselin/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Golden Knights, Raiders Unite for Charity Softball Game - Video Highlights
Golden Knights and Raiders players alike were more than excited to join together in a charity softball game to raise money for pediatric cancer. Players from both teams cannot wait for the Raiders to arrive in Las Vegas so more joint events can take place.
Golden Knights and Raiders Raise over $100K in Charity Softball Game - Video Highlights
In the first-ever Battle For Vegas Charity Softball Game, the Golden Knights and Raiders raised $136,000 for the Tyler Robinson Foundation. At the end of the nights, it was the Raiders that raised the Battle For Vegas trophy, after beating the Golden Knights 20-16. Take a look at some of the highlights from the game!
Golden Knights' Reilly Smith Ready to Battle for Vegas - Video
Golden Knights forward Reilly Smith is ready to Battle For Vegas in a charity softball game that will feature various celebrity athletes, including teammates Jonathan Marchessault, Ryan Reaves and Erik Haula. Smith's team will face off against former Raider Marcus Allen and his teammates, including Vontaze Burfict, Josh Jacobs and Maurice Hurst. The charity softball game is set to take place on Saturday, June 15th at the Las Vegas Ballpark.
Golden Knights Will Have a New Home in Henderson - Video
The Golden Knights are saying goodbye to the Henderson Convention Center and hello to the team's new hockey facility that will be located in the second largest city in Nevada. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Golden Knights and Henderson make deal on new facility - VIDEO
Henderson City Council unanimously approved a lease agreement with the Vegas Golden Knights to build and operate an indoor ice hockey facility in downtown Henderson, Tuesday evening. ( Mat Luschek / Review-Journal)