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Golden Knights unveil dazzling new pregame show

Updated December 23, 2019 - 8:01 pm

A new elaborate stage show opened Monday night on the Strip.

It just so happened to be followed by a hockey game between the Golden Knights and the Colorado Avalanche.

The opening program at Knights games has been a hot topic around the NHL since the team’s inaugural season, drawing rave reviews and occasional gentle ribbing about its ostentatious nature from other teams and on social media. It has undergone several overhauls and just received a facelift that was rolled out for the final game before the holiday break.

“We’re relentless,” Ayron Sequeira, the team’s executive director for entertainment production, said after several hours of rehearsal late Sunday night. “Part of the Knight code is to always advance and always push forward. So if we were just to do the same open for 45 nights a year or the same open we did in year one, that’s not upholding our own code. We really do always strive to challenge ourselves, to get better and to give the fans more reasons to keep coming back.”

The new opening has a winter theme. It involves the summoning of the Golden Knight to fight off a villain representing that night’s opponent. Like most of the nearly 10 incarnations of the opening, a cinematic element on screen transitions to an on-ice battle with the Knight coming out on top when he fights off a final attack. Monday’s final scene involved an Avalanche logo zooming across the ice and being disintegrated by the triumphant Knight.

“It’s hard to explain it,” senior director of production Andrew Abrams said. “It’s part action movie, part Cirque performance, part epic battle.”

The new version is the result of several weeks of work, from brainstorming concepts to storyboarding to shooting the footage at Mount Charleston, where the team had to hope for snow, and coordinating technical and production elements with animation, lighting and projections on the ice.

“When you’re creating the open before it even gets to rehearsal, you’re trying to predict time,” Abrams said. “How long it takes for the skaters to come out and hit their marks. Timing is always an issue where you come out of the edit bay thinking you have it. Then you rehearse and sometimes it’s right on and sometimes you have to go back to the drawing board. Sometimes it’s hours before the show when you finally have it.”

It was part of a busy night for the production crew, which also put on a holiday-themed show at the end of the first period, featuring a haunting live rendition of “Carol of the Bells.”

The elaborate four-minute production featured a medley of holiday songs performed by anthem singers Carnell Johnson and Lynnae Meyers along with most of the usual game cast showcasing their talents.

“We are very fortunate to have incredible people who are dance team members or extras in a Cirque show,” Sequeira said. “We have incredible people that just want to inform. We are so fortunate that our leadership allows us to be creative and to take an intermission that very easily could be sold to a partner in another city and instead allows us to create something. We really wanted to do something fun and playful and give the fans a chance to enjoy the holidays with us.”

Monday also marked the unveiling of new dynamic headshots projected in the arena.

The production team, which consists of nine full-time team employees and involves more than 100 others when the camera operators, stage managers, mascots, cheerleaders, dance team and drumline are included, spent several hours getting the timing down on Sunday night in order to pull it off for real on Monday.

One of the biggest challenges on Sunday night was ensuring the Golden Knight’s sword was contacting the ice and his shield at precisely the right moments to coordinate with the projection of the ice shattering and the villain falling into the virtual abyss.

The cast nailed the debut performance on Monday night.

It’s not clear how long the new show will remain in place, but it will be slightly different each night. The production team spent several hours filming at Mount Charleston, changing out flags to make sure they were prepared for all potential opponents.

That sort of attention to detail is what helps to ensure that the experience of attending Golden Knights games remains fresh, even for fans who have been to every game.

“It was never about keeping up with other NHL teams. It was about keeping up with shows on the Strip,” Abrams said. “We wanted to make this a spectacle. We wanted to make it a show you would buy a ticket to come see.”

And they’re not going to stop pushing the envelope. Sequeira pushed for a live tiger to be used in the show to represent a predator should the Knights have faced Nashville in a playoff series in the first season. She has also advocated for flaming arrows at one point.

“We’re always going to push,” she said. Even if that one day means a live tiger may show up on the ice as part of the show.

“You never know what you’re going to see with us,” Sequeira said with a laugh.

The only guarantee is it will be over the top.

Contact Adam Hill at ahill@reviewjournal.com. Follow @AdamHillLVRJ on Twitter.

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