With Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Finals upon us, Las Vegas is going golden. Everywhere you go on the Strip you’ll see the infamous logo on street signs, on banners, even on Lady Liberty. On the surface, it seems like this craze came out of nowhere, as did the year-long success of the rag-tag team of lovable misfits. But there has been an underlying appreciation for the sport growing in the city for over twenty years.
In 1970, the first hockey team in the city, the Las Vegas Gamblers, entered the Pacific Southwest Hockey League. They didn’t last long, nor did the following Las Vegas Outlaws. That was about it for hockey in the city for twenty years, save for the single outdoor game between the Rangers and the Kings, until the Las Vegas Aces and Las Vegas Thunder entered the Pacific and International leagues, respectively. The Thunder outlasted the Aces; the Las Vegas Aces closed shop in 1995, whereas the Thunder lasted until 1999. In the meantime, another team known as the Ice Dice, entered the North American League.
In the late 90s, the West Coast Hockey League came to Las Vegas, to become known as the Las Vegas Wranglers. They have been the longest-running sports team in the city’s history, playing from 1999 until 2015, after they lost their contract at the Orleans Arena and plans for a stadium of their own fell through. The Las Vegas Wranglers brought defenseman Deryk Engelland to the city, a player who has become one of the prominent faces of the franchise.
Talk of NHL expansion began a decade before the Golden Knights came to the city, but there was little movement on the idea until MGM and the AEG Group finalized plans for a stadium in 2013. In the interim, various groups made proposals and promises on stadiums, from the Jerry Bruckheimer Group to entrepreneur Chris Milam. But it was billionaire Bill Foley that sealed the deal with the NHL, and got the authorization to launch a ticket drive in 2014. He met his goal of 10,000 deposits just a little over a month after the drive began, and officially submitted his expansion application in 2015. On June 22, 2016, the NHL officially awarded Las Vegas the team that has become the Golden Knights.
It’s yet to be seen if this first-year team takes home the Stanley Cup, but it’s safe to say the city is brewing with excitement. The winning streak of this band of misfits is a testament not only to their resilience and tenacity, but the idea that in Las Vegas, the house always has the advantage.