T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas was already set to be the scene of a memorable event Tuesday, as it was hosting the Golden Knights in the home debut of the city’s first major sports franchise. But the evening took on much more meaning in the wake of the mass shooting on the famed Vegas Strip, and the expansion team used its home opener to honor both the victims of the massacre and the first responders who rushed to the scene.
Ahead of a game against the visiting Arizona Coyotes, the Golden Knights, who began the season with road wins against the Coyotes and the Dallas Stars, introduced a first responder along with each of their players. Both teams then lined up, one behind the other, at one of the blue lines as several survivors of the Oct. 1 shooting stood at center ice during the national anthem.
Before that ceremony, the Knights played a two-minute video showing groups of police officers, firefighters, medical personnel and others who were pressed into service by the shooting, in which 58 people were killed while attending an outdoor concert. Hundreds more were injured, with dozens still in critical condition, by a lone gunman who fired multiple weapons, including at least a dozen semiautomatic rifles legally modified to fire like automatic weapons, from a 32nd-floor casino suite before taking his own life as law enforcement closed in.
The video also featured displays and utterances of the phrase “Vegas Strong.” That phrase was emblazoned on the sideboards around the arena Tuesday, as the team announced that it would eschew the ads usually placed there, as well as on rally towels placed on every seat.
During the ceremony, the fans in attendance were asked to observe a 58-second moment of silence, in honor of the victims. Knights defenseman Deryk Engelland, an Edmonton native who has been a Las Vegas resident since playing for a minor-league team there in 2004, picked up a microphone and addressed the crowd, saying, “Like all of you, I’m proud to call Las Vegas home. I met my wife here, my kids were born here, and I know how special the city is.
“To all the brave first responders that have worked tirelessly and courageously through this whole tragedy, we thank you,” Engelland continued. “To the families and friends of the victims, know that we’ll do everything we can to help you and our city heal.
“We are Vegas Strong.”
“This terrible event has kind of put a damper on opening night,” Knights owner Bill Foley said Monday (via the AP). “We’re going to be very respectful and pay tribute to the first responders and victims. That’s kind of our job. We’re the Las Vegas team and this is going to be the first event following the massacre.”
“We talked about giving people a smile and something to be happy about, and we’re doing everything we can to help uplift this city and this community,” said winger James Neal, who scored the game-winning goal, one in overtime, in each of the Knights’ first two contests. The night before the shooting, Neal had attended the same concert, and he planned on going again the next evening until he was informed that his team had a skating session the following morning.
On Tuesday, Neal helped his team ride the emotion of the pregame ceremony to an explosive first period. He scored two goals, while Engelland had another and winger Tomas Nosek got the Knights on the board less than three minutes in, as Las Vegas burst to a 4-1 lead over Arizona.
Naturally, all that scoring whipped the T-Mobile crowd into a frenzy, helping the Knights take a significant step toward fulfilling their mission of uplifting a community recovering from an unthinkable tragedy.
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