It became obvious during Deryk Engelland’s stirring pregame speech, punctuated by the spirited “Go Knights, Go” chant by towel-waving fans crammed into T-Mobile Arena: The Vegas Golden Knights need to win this game. They couldn’t lose — not on this night.
Who would become our Mike Piazza?
The initial home game in franchise existence was supposed to be one gigantic celebration of the long-awaited debut of major professional sports in Las Vegas. That took a backseat to a well-put-together pregame tribute to honor the victims of the mass shooting attack last week on the Strip, a tribute that was so powerful you couldn’t help but think it ignited an equally impressive first-period effort by the Knights in a 5-2 victory against Arizona.
You couldn’t ask for a better way to launch a franchise. T-Mobile Arena was as loud as any venue I’ve been in during more than four decades of going to sporting events in Las Vegas.
The players fed off the energy and put on a performance years in the making. We, after all, have been trying to get major sports for the past decade.
The tribute included recorded messages from the likes of Keith Urban and Imagine Dragons, followed by each Golden Knights player walking onto the ice with a first responder who helped save lives last week.
Many of the capacity 18,000 in attendance joined in singing the “Star-Spangled Banner” before Engelland — a longtime Las Vegas resident — spoke to the crowd.
“Now, we will do everything we can to help you and our city heal. We are Vegas Strong,” he said.
It didn’t take long for them to deliver. The Knights scored two goals in the less than five minutes and four in the initial period, including one from Engelland and two from James Neal — the clear fan favorite — our Piazza.
Piazza hit a home run into the cold New York night at Shea Stadium in the Mets’ first home game after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks for a late-game victory. The night provided New Yorkers a brief pause from the pains of their tragedy.
That’s how tonight felt in Las Vegas. We cried together, stood up to cheered together and continued to heal together. Thankfully, we have the Golden Knights. They gave this community an awesome display, everything from a classy pregame production to a well-played hockey game.
That says something about the quality of people in the organization.
With the exception of Engelland, who has lived here since his days with the minor league Las Vegas Wranglers, all of the players have been Las Vegans for just a few weeks. The truth is they had no tie to the community until Oct 1.
To their credit they’ve embraced the city, visiting with first responders and police days after the attack and owner Bill Foley coordinating $500,000 worth of donations.
"I talked about the game a little bit and we talked about tonight being the most important game we’ll ever play,” coach Gerard Gallant said. “We’re playing for our city, for the tragedy that happened, for all the people that were here tonight and were affected by the tragedy. I thought the guys did a hell of a job.”
The Knights, like all expansion teams, weren’t expected to be competitive in the first year. Somehow they are 3-0, including two come-from-behind wins. Talk about good karma, right?
The Knights created a buzz tonight that will help keep locals interested. I’ve long argued that once the novelty wears off, they’ll need to win to keep fans coming back.
Like us, they’ll need to remain, “Vegas Strong.”