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Graney: Bill Foley’s All-Star dream comes true this week

Updated February 2, 2022 - 5:03 pm

It was in 2016 when Bill Foley and NHL commissioner Gary Bettman stood side by side for a photo-op, making official that which took far longer than a simple handshake.

The NHL’s executive committee had recommended expansion. That’s when Las Vegas as a sports town changed forever.

“I think, on the surface, it looks like there is a tremendous amount of interest,” Bettman said that June day. “I know there were people who were skeptical. I think people have come away with the impression that this community would respond to professional sports, to hockey, like many other significant cities across North America.”

Flash forward to 2022. Las Vegas will host All-Star Weekend.

Dreaming big

Foley, the Golden Knights’ owner, has always thought beyond just a team and a game. Thought and dreamed in much bigger terms.

His goal has been to help offer Las Vegas an identity other than the Strip. That the country would glance this way and see something other than just flashy lights and gaudy casinos and dancing water features.

“At this point, in our fifth year, I think it’s great to bring an All-Star Game here,” Foley said. “We’ve matured as an organization. We’re not the new guys anymore. Bringing something like this here gives another sort of emphasis about how important and committed our fans are to hockey. And they are fully committed.”

The league will stage its All-Star festivities at T-Mobile Arena, with its skills competition Friday and the game Saturday.

You might think that’s a race car speeding down Las Vegas Boulevard. No worries. It’s probably just the smoke off Connor McDavid’s blades as the likely fastest skater winner.

Foley has never swayed from his desire for Las Vegas to host such events, for it to be one of the premier destinations for things such as All-Star celebrations and outdoor games and drafts.

A week like this begins such a journey coming alive.

He waited a few years after the team’s expansion season to chase such moments, not wanting to tax his front office. In his mind, it was distracting to a team whose goals even then were to quickly make the playoffs and eventually vie for a Stanley Cup.

But now is the time.

“Bringing the All-Star Game here checks a box,” Foley said. “Can we get an NHL draft? I’m going to be all over that. It would be unbelievable at T-Mobile. An outdoor game? It would be fantastic. I push for all these things all the time within the league.

“I’m respectful. I know a lot of other (teams) are ahead of us. But this All-Star Game is going to lead to a next level and those other events for us.”

You won’t see much defense in the three-on-three tournament format of the All-Star Game and be glad for it. Speed. Skill. Strength. It’s some pretty crazy stuff.

Hey, the winning team splits $1 million. That’s been enough for a fair share of drama over the years.

Expects to win

This is part of the dream. This weekend. It’s something Bill Foley knew was possible but still pinches himself thinking about it.

“I wouldn’t say surprised,” he said. “I’ve said it many times — we are embedded in Las Vegas, and Las Vegas is embedded in our team. And it’s our players who have done that. We’re trying to be a really good citizen. That’s always been my goal.

“I’m excited we have a few guys on the All-Star team (Mark Stone, Alex Pietrangelo and Jonathan Marchessault) and that Pete DeBoer will coach the Pacific Division. Their goal is to win, and that’s what we’re going to do. We’re the favorites as far as I’m concerned.”

He wouldn’t expect anything less.

Always dreaming big.

Ed Graney is a Sigma Delta Chi Award winner for sports column writing and can be reached at egraney@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4618. He can be heard on “The Press Box,” ESPN Radio 100.9 FM and 1100 AM, from 7 a.m. to 10 a.m. Monday through Friday. Follow @edgraney on Twitter.

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