First they get you hyped, then they piss you off. This is Phase 1 in a step-by-step process that arms the Vegas Golden Knights on home ice.
One visit to T-Mobile Arena, and the impossible dominance established in Vegas’s inaugural season suddenly made all the sense in the world.
Because, for a visiting player, man, this isn’t an easy barn to visit.
Now, I won’t suggest that Vegas has revolutionized the art of creating arena noise — though time-honoured persuasive tactics, let’s be honest, are set up to be far more successful when applied to a crowd that just entered the arena from the Las Vegas strip.
But it’s the deliberate course of action launched from a simple request to “MAKE NOISE” that separates Vegas from other NHL rinks. And it paralyzes the competition — or at least it seemed to Wednesday in Game 3 of the Western Conference Final.
But enough about the game: let’s get back to what happened before it.
It all starts with that typical call to action, but once the noise builds to its desired crescendo, in deliberately drops a montage with the reminders of all who wrote off the Golden Knights in their brief history. Included in these criticisms was the hottest of takes from Drew Doughty, which the fans take great pleasure in exposing, like they would any Twitter misfire.
“Impossible is nothing,” game ops touts, as if it were placing a chip directly on the shoulders of fans inside T-Mobile Arena.
Phase 1 complete. Now things get Medieval.
For an audience made more unruly than it was before it entered, on comes the greatest pregame show in the NHL — and, if we’re being honest, all of professional sports in North America.
The video board reminds the crowd of the Knights’ path to this point. Legend says they dethroned the Kings and feasted on Shark, while scorching arrows were fired at the six teams — or villages, if you will — burned to the ground in the battle for the Western Conference, leaving just the empires of the Golden Knights and Winnipeg Jets.
So out comes some schmuck waving a Jets flag. This fragile character set up for obvious failure is met by a Knight wielding a golden sword carrying with him an undefeated record around these parts. Clearly feeling a little unsure about the battle that’s about to ensue after swiftly being knocked to the ground, the flag waver repels to safety, and the heavy artillery — a literal, albeit projected, jet — is brought in.
Several engine revs later the jet takes off toward the Knight, only to be sawed in half by his sword.
Only in Vegas, baby.
At this point everyone in the arena is literally one stimulant away from collectively bursting at the seams, but a dramatic entrance is still to follow. The suspense-filled, somewhat ominous music starts to build as an inferno-red mask with smoke bellowing out the sides is lowered from the roof, to be placed just in front of the Golden Knights’ bench.
Everyone knows what’s coming next, but the anticipation inside the building only magnifies the response. The first sight of Marc-Andre Fleury leading the Golden Knights onto the ice results in an explosion exclusive to the world-class arena located just off the Las Vegas strip.
This place is now on fire.
As a Canadian with no ties to Winnipeg whatsoever, I, for no reason at all, slouched meekly into my pressbox seat. I’m convinced there isn’t a chance in hell the atmosphere inside the building wouldn’t have an effect on Winnipeg’s starters.
Uncoincidentally, within 35 seconds Jonathan Marchessault soared past the last of the situationally lead-footed Jets, Jacob Trouba, scoring with his backhand (again) with a breakaway try on Connor Hellebuyck, lifting the crowd to a whole ‘nother category of decibels.
Marchessault said with self-satisfaction a little later, “I never really score backhand goals.”
There were other reminders of the expert messaging and manipulation to elicit emotion in the building, from the montage aimed to connect Vegas to its Golden Knights in the first stoppage, to the #VegasStrong Hero honoured for saving lives of Las Vegans in the events of October 1.
But it was the Marchessault goal, unsurprising given the energy in the building in that moment, that provided the Golden Knights with a lead that would never exchange hands. Vegas now has a 2-1 series lead to move within six wins of lifting the Stanley Cup in their expansion season.
Only in Vegas.
It was a truly amazing game, chock full of suspense, and one ultimately rescued by favourite son Fleury once the Jets became acclimatized with their surroundings and were finally able to mount a pushback.
Marc-Andre Fleury, still in pads, spending time with Humboldt coach Darcy Haugan’s family.
— Justin Cuthbert (@jccuthbert) May 17, 2018
But here I am writing about all that other stuff.
I’ve seen amazing games before.
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