Many eyes were on Ryan Reaves as he strolled along the golden carpet, smiling for photos and signing autographs during a ceremonial walk into T-Mobile Arena. Thousands of Golden Knightsfans jammed into Toshiba Plaza for the pregame festivities Wednesday hoping to get a glimpse of their favorite player, or two, ahead of the season opener against the Sharks.
Our city and this team have been a perfect match since the beginning, that moment two years ago when there were few dry eyes in the arena during its touching tribute to the Oct. 1, 2017, mass shooting victims before the first home game in franchise history.
A season opener won’t pass without supporters remembering how sincere Deryk Engelland was that opening night in embracing his role as the face of the franchise, setting off a love affair between community and team that will endure. Engelland is a legend, as are goalie Marc-André Fleury, Reaves and others.
The crowd — whether it’s a preseason game, the season opener, playoffs or midweek practice before the sun rises — never disappoints. The 4-1 win against the Sharks, in which Vegas scored two goals in the initial 5:21, featured those wild and crazy fans impacting the game with their energy just like every night the past two seasons. The summer was way too long, right?
The fortress, the nickname for T-Mobile during Vegas games, gives the Knights the best home-ice advantage in hockey. Find me another NHL franchise with fans this loyal and passionate — sorry, Montreal. Show me another franchise that sells out games in the preseason. Find me another franchise whose fans travel to regional games and are frequently louder than the home team.
This fanbase is so over the top in their pride for the home team that it’s downright refreshing, something we native Las Vegans long envisioned over the years as we waited for major sports to arrive. You, arguably, could also say the Golden Knights — who are 53-22-7 at home in two regular seasons — have one of the better home-field advantages in all of sports.
It’s right on par, if not better, than the NFL’s Seahawks, NBA’s Warriors and baseball’s St. Louis Cardinals.
“It’s always a party in Vegas. Nothing like it,” Reaves told the Toshiba Plaza crowd.
The party, which included a franchise-best 18,588 fans on Wednesday, is only getting started.
The Knights have a legit chance to make a deep playoff run, especially with Max Pacioretty, Paul Stastny and Mark Stone playing on the same line, and of course, with the boost they get playing at home.
It’s not just one game — it’s every night, 41 times a year. And it doesn’t matter who they are playing, although the opener Wednesday against the hated Sharks was an added bonus.
Here’s how important the crowd is: The Golden Knights likely will be the betting favorite in a majority of home dates, or at least when Fleury is starting in goal. Sure, no team will run the table at home with the peaks and valleys of a long season, even though many in the standing-room-only crowd of 18,000-plus each night are confident they will.
That confidence is massively important because it gives players a pick-me-up at home during close games. It’s surely similar to other sports and in other markets, although the bond between team and community in Vegas, and the party for every Knights game, is unmatched.
As Reaves says, “There’s nothing like it.”