Tuesday, October 24, 2017

St. Louis Blues 2 at Vegas Golden Knights 3 (OT) - October 21, 2017


Having spent all my vacation time (and then some) on my two extended minor league baseball trips this past summer, I am limited to weekend jaunts to complete the new Club 123 venues. For a city with a single stadium in the same time zone, such as Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, one night is enough and easy to plan. Detroit's Little Caesars Arena hosts both the Red Wings and Pistons, so I just needed a little help from the schedule makers to do that one in two days (November 11/12 as it turns out). But the remaining two venues are in Las Vegas and Los Angeles, two cities in the Pacific Time Zone. It is too far and expensive to fly out there twice from NYC, so I needed a weekend where the Golden Knights were home on Saturday and the Chargers on Sunday. There were a few options, but the best was this past weekend, when the Golden Knights hosted St. Louis on Saturday evening, and the Chargers welcomed the Broncos on Sunday afternoon. With red-eye flights leaving LAX, I would be able to complete the trip without missing work.

I flew out of JFK on Friday evening, arriving at McCarran Airport around 10:00. Rather than wait for a taxi, I walked to my hotel on Tropicana, about 30 minutes away. This is not a recommended way to get out of the airport, but it was cool, and after 5 hours sitting, my legs needed some stretching. There are sidewalks the whole way, and you have them to yourself. After checking in, I headed over to the closest casino (Hooters) and stopped by their sports book, run by William Hill. I picked up the odds sheets for hockey and college football, and scanned the odds for Saturday's games over a beer at the bar, choosing which ones I would bet (lose money) on the next day.



On Saturday, I visited Taps Sports Bar in the MGM Grand, where I watched my bets lose in painfully quick fashion. Shortly thereafter, my friend Meg joined me. She had flown in for the game from Denver, and we wandered over to New York New York (above), whose Nine Fine Irishmen Pub has a highly tempting soup of the day.



With a game to attend, we stuck to more typical fare and then made our way over to T-Mobile Arena, which is located just behind the casino. The picture below, taken from the air as I was leaving the following morning, shows the arena (center left) and the surroundings. In the foreground is Mandalay Bay and the Las Vegas Village, now famous as the site of the largest mass shooting in US history.



The Mandalay Bay now has a #VegasStrong banner atop it, which is pretty much how U.S. cities deal with these sorts of attacks. Add Strong to the city name, hashtag it, and move on. Changes to laws to prevent a similar incident from happening again? No thank you, but you can have plenty of thoughts and prayers for the victims.



Enough of the editorializing. Between the casino and the arena is a walking path known as The Park, with several hockey-related displays such as a giant puck with the knight's helmet logo...



...a large wooden goalie that you can stand behind with your head looking through the mask (thanks to Meg for playing along)...



...and a cheerleaders parade.



There are also restaurants and bars along here such as Sake Rok and Beerhaus which have entrances adorned with VGK signage.



The centrepiece is a huge statue of a full-figured female known as Bliss Dance that was created by Marco Cochrane. A similar statue was scheduled to be placed on the National Mall in Washington, but it was rejected by the National Park Service.



The main entrance to the arena is at the west end of the park, facing the Monte Carlo (the hotel in the picture above) across the way. Gates open an hour before the game and there is a countdown clock atop the main entrance.



When it finally hits 0, you may "Enter the Fortress".



Tickets here can be expensive even at the box office, with the cheapest usually around $100. We found a pair for a bit less on the secondary market and ended up in the sixth row behind the net that Vegas attacks twice (view below). The mobile option does provide you with a small paper stub that has the Golden Knights logo on it, which is the best you can do these days in many places.



Inside the arena, there isn't much in terms of decoration or history, which is to be expected as it was built as a neutral venue. T-Mobile's garish pink is also used on signs directing you to your section.



Still, there are some additions, such as the Castle, an area denoted by the knight's helmet that sits above the upper deck at the west end of the arena.



Here is where the in-game promos and cheerleader dance routines take place. You can get up close before the game, but not actually enter the area itself.



Above this is a cool picture of the Vegas skyline along with banners for every team in the NHL, in alphabetical order by conference. During the game, these banners are constantly moving, though I am not sure if that is intentional or just a result of the proximity of the Castle.



Concourses do get narrow at spots and there was quite a crowd trying to get out after the game. The upper concourse is above the seating bowl, so if you are in Row A, you will have a long walk down and back up.



There are two large triangular projections above the upper seating bowl on the east side that seem to be premium areas. I did not make my way here but they certainly did seem to provide unique views of the ice.



I did pick up a designated driver soda but having just eaten, did not try any of the food. I did not see anything particularly tempting, and like much of Vegas, it was overpriced.



During the game, I was impressed with the fans, who weren't as noob as anticipated. There were some problems with fans coming and going during the action, but that should become less of an issue as they get used to the unwritten rules of hockey viewing. Though given the long walk down to the lower seats on both levels, even if you start walking when the whistle blows, you might not reach the first row until the face-off has already taken place. In terms of promos, there are your typical "Make Some Noise" graphics, each with a Vegas twist, that are played on the scoreboard that hangs above center ice. Fans did as directed and were rewarded with an exciting game with a thrilling finish.



Overall, T-Mobile Arena is a fantastic experience. Obviously it immediately vaults to the top of the neighborhood rankings as there is nothing like it in the Big 4 and there should be plenty of visiting fans making the trip to see their team here. In addition, the club has done a great job in promoting the game, their brand (the logo is ubiquitous), and helped by an aggressive expansion draft policy and easy schedule, the team is off to a flying start. I'm glad I got here early (the Leafs play on New Year's Eve, which is not possible this year for me) as this will become a premier stadium destination for hockey fans everywhere.

The Game

The St. Louis Blues were in town with a 6-2 record while the Knights were 5-1. With Marc-Andre Fleury injured, Malcolm Subban got the start between the pipes for Vegas, while Jake Allen tended goal for St. Louis. The visitors scored in the first when Magnus Paarjavi jammed home a loose puck after a fancy wraparound by Oskar Sundqvist, but Vegas notched a pair of power-play markers in the second just over three minutes apart, with Reilly Smith and Colin Miller doing the honours.

In the third, Subban made a save stretching and immediately went down in obvious distress. At the next whistle, the trainer came out and eventually Subban was helped off, to be replaced by Oscar Dansk, making his NHL debut. Shortly thereafter, Alex Pietrangelo sent a wicked slap shot past Dansk to tie the game. Neither team could capitalize over the final few minutes and we went to 3-on-3 overtime. Both teams were stymied by good goaltending, with Dansk looking particularly sharp, until the last 30 seconds, when the Golden Knights broke away on a 2-on-1. Smith crossed the blueline and passed to William Karlsson, whose one-timer beat Allen for the winner.



A very fun game with a satisfying ending that set a record as Vegas became the first NHL expansion team to win 6 of their first 7 games. One interesting thing is that the scoreboard has slightly different displays - if you want the list of players on the ice, you will need to sit in the end zone.

Notes

I had seen all three goalies on their way up: Subban in Belleville (on the bench) and Providence, Dansk in Erie, and Allen when he was in the AHL as a member of the Chicago Wolves.

Subban was placed on IR as well, so Vegas will have some trouble in the next couple of weeks as they embark on their first big road trip. Dansk will likely see the bulk of the action and he played well in his first start against Chicago. I'll see them against the Islanders on October 30 and it will be interesting to see how they play on the road.

Best,

Sean

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