George McPhee stood with four firefighters trading stories and in the end thanked them for their service. William Karlsson stood for selfie after selfie. He even flipped his hair a few times. Max Pacioretty and a burly cop laughed about who was better suited to play defensive line before the LVPD officer rolled up a sleeve to show his tattoo and discuss with the VGK winger. Marc-Andre Fleury smiled his smile and lit up the lives of everyone in the room. Ryan Reaves mugged with anyone who walked into his orbit. Brayden McNabb patrolled the room and listened to all those who wanted to talk. Bill Foley signed shirts and flags and chatted and said thanks.
It was a Tuesday and a practice day. But it was October 1 and that day will never just pass by without notice for Las Vegas and the Golden Knights.
"We are uniquely tied to the events of what happened on Oct. 1. That was the beginning of our franchise and the way it affected this community and our organization. That's never going to go away and so that unique connection, I think, brings unique responsibility," said COO and President Kerry Bubolz. "What we are doing today with our players and the closed practice session with the first responders and those that were affected, it isn't hard. It's just something that's right and feels good. We are proud to be doing what we're doing today."
The Golden Knights are like any sports franchise in that the mandate is to win and make money. It's professional sport and the motivation is inherent. Commerce and the pursuit of victory are entwined. But the Golden Knights also have a soul. It's embodied in people across the building and emanates from the happenings of Oct. 1, 2017.
The Golden Knights were an NHL franchise prior to that night two years ago. They had a name and jerseys and players. But they didn't have a spiritual energy and connection with their community. They didn't have a greater purpose. Then came a hail of bullets and the tragic aftermath.
The Golden Knights handled their home opener in 2017, just nine days after the city of Las Vegas saw 58 people die and more than 400 wounded in a mass shooting, with respect, class and sincere emotion. Deryk Engelland's addressing the crowd at T-Mobile Arena was moving, iconic and memorable.
The organization found itself under an intense spotlight with a responsibility to embrace the community of Las Vegas and they stepped through an unexpected baptism providing compassion, dignity, hope and the promise of healing. They won the game that night but more importantly they won a place in Vegas. They knit themselves into the fabric of Las Vegas.
On Tuesday, the second anniversary of Oct. 1, the Golden Knights invited first responders and those affected by the shootings to practice. The players saluted those in attendance following the skate before moving upstairs to share a meal and talk with their guests for the day.
"It's who we are and who we always will be," said Bill Foley. "It's a responsibility we don't take lightly. We're the Vegas Golden Knights. We're of Vegas. Born here and raised here. The community embraces us and we embrace the community. Our people have done a wonderful job of commemorating those affected and the first responders. Our commitment and service to the community is something our entire organization takes pride in."
Great words. But even better are the actions of Foley's team.
"The Golden Knights have rallied behind Las Vegas, Clark County, and Southern Nevada," said firefighter Ralph King. "This is our first big time professional sports team. We have had other professional sports in the past, but not to the capacity of an NHL team. The rehabilitation and the outreach they provided has been remarkable to witness and be a part of."
Golden Knights leadership has made Oct. 1 an integral part of the yearly schedule.
"We start talking about this as soon as the season schedule comes out in June," said Kim Frank, Vice President of Marketing. "We came here and the community embraced us and we are embracing the community just like they have welcomed us from day one, this is a part of who we were when we started and we will never forget."
Engelland stands out to so many for his words at the Golden Knights home opener and the Vegas Strong slogan has been tattooed on many Las Vegans.
"I think no matter how long it is from now, October 1 is never going to be forgotten and neither are all these people, people that gave their lives, or even the people that helped. For the team to go above and beyond like they do for everything just shows the class of the organization," stated Engelland. "I was feeding my boys this morning and glanced at the clock and noticed 10-1. I think it hit me a little more Sunday though during the 5 o'clock game. I went back to old Snapchat stories from a year ago or two years ago and stuff is getting brought up as reminder about that day. It's all over the place. It's still a terrible, awful thing that you would never want anyone to experience. On the flip side it showed me how strong this community is, to rally around something so bad and make good out of it. This city is extremely strong and resilient after what happened. It makes you honored to call Vegas home."