Less than two km south of the site of the Las Vegas shooting, the Golden Knights played their first-ever home game on Tuesday night.
Initially, the pre-game ceremony was set to be an event filled with visual marvels but after Stephen Paddock took the lives of 58 people at a Las Vegas country music festival, plans were changed.
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In an unusual but fitting display, T-Mobile Arena had no ads on the boards around the ice for the game. Instead, the all-white boards simply displayed the message “Vegas Strong.”
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The event opened with a video featuring first responders from around Las Vegas and what followed was a tribute to victims, first responders and survivors of the Route 91 Harvest Festival massacre.
After the video ended, nurses, doctors, firefighters and police officers were then introduced alongside Golden Knights players.
A ceremonial puck drop followed, featuring survivors of the shooting.
Keith Dotson, manager of festivals and outdoor Events for MGM Resorts International, then sang the U.S. national anthem.
Finally, Knights defenceman Deryk Engelland took to the microphone and gave a heartfelt speech.
“I met my wife here. My kids were born here. And I know how special this city is,” the Edmonton-native said before thanking the first responders in front of him.
“To all the brave first responders that have worked tirelessly and courageously throughout this whole tragedy, we thank you.”
Engelland then made a promise to the victims’ friends and families.
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“To the families and friends of the victims, know that we will do everything we can to help you and our city heal,” he said. “We are Vegas strong.”
NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said the game “shows what a major league professional sports team can mean to a community in terms of bringing people together, uniting them, helping them heal from a tragedy and demonstrating the power of distraction when everybody comes together.”
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The players still walked a gold carpet into the arena before the game, cheered on by early arriving fans lining the walkway. But a fan festival was cancelled and many of the high-profile festivities scheduled for the opener have been delayed until the Golden Knights’ second home game on Friday, when the Detroit Red Wings visit Las Vegas.
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But after years of work and months of anticipation, the NHL’s 31st franchise is officially in business in the U.S.’s gambling mecca, albeit in muted circumstances.
The Golden Knights won their first two regular-season games on the road shortly after the shooting, building anticipation for a first-year franchise that never forgot about the city waiting for its return.
Goalie Marc-Andre Fleury was among several players who experienced anxious moments on Oct. 1. The team had a preseason game earlier in the day, and Fleury knew several teammates had gone out on the Strip that night, perhaps to the country music festival. Fleury didn’t stop worrying until he got texts back from his new teammates.
“You don’t want to have to face those tough situations,” Fleury said. “Vegas is such a huge town, a lot of people living around here, but it didn’t feel that way (after the shooting). Everybody was trying to do whatever they can to help out around here. You feel proud to be part of a city like that.”
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