SALT LAKE CITY - Right around midweek - when the tweets and texts started to show how much fun #VGKRoadTrip was turning out to be - colleagues back in Vegas started hinting about joining up if any future Golden Knights caravans were going to happen. And then GM George McPhee put all those questions to rest with one direct text: "Next year, we're all going."
Planning a road trip into unknown communities has its risks. How will it all come together? Will people come out? What will the response be? It came off without a hitch and if the smiles of the folks in Coeur D'Alene, Whitefish, Bozeman and Salt Lake City are an indicator - it had its intended impact. The Golden Knights wanted to reach out and meet people and invite them to be part of the experience. They responded.
Video: Pickard explores downtown Coeur d'Alene, Idaho
The bus was brilliant - wrapped in black and gold with the Golden Knights logo smacked on the side.
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The fans came out in unanticipated numbers and with unexpected enthusiasm. Bill Foley's vision of his NHL franchise being the team of the Rockies has some legs. Hundreds of kids in Idaho, Montana and Utah went home this week from clinics, free skates and street hockey games wearing Golden Knights hats and T-shirts. Kids who arrived as Red Wings and Blackhawks fans left with the understanding that an NHL team had visited their town and rink. And that team would be on their TV sets 82 times or more a season.
Video: Pickard gets to know locals in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho
There was a void in Vegas and Foley filled it. Now his plan is getting traction across the western Rockies.
Certainly, this venture was a success from a marketing and branding perspective. Unequivocally. But it has meant much more for the franchise. It was an unplanned team building exercise.
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Somewhere along U.S. 15 in Idaho, just past the Montana border, a game of Salad Bowlbroke out on the bus. One of the interns learned the game at her family beach house in Martha's Vineyard. She set out the rules and before long the bus was ringing with shouted out clues and answers. One hour passed and then two. And just as the left side of the bus claimed victory - Salt Lake City appeared on the horizon.
Foley had invited the staff to stay at his home in Whitefish and then to his lodge in Rock Creek. Interns and VPs and NHL players rode the bus, ate meals, shot skeet, rode in helicopters and experienced fly fishing together. And then they got up at 5 AM and started working and chipping in to achieve the trip's goals.
Video: The #VGKRoadTrip visits the Ice Barn in Bozeman
"We've heard Bill Foley's vision of making the Golden Knights the team of the Rockies so it just made sense to visit these communities before we even play a game," explained Eric Tosi, VP communications and content. "We hung a team banner in the rinks we visited on this trip and lots of the kids got to meet a player or coach. Down the road when we've become a Stanley Cup contender, these kids will be able to point at the banner in their rink and say they met a player like Alex Tuch way back when. This has worked in terms of growing our fan base. The team building aspect, when you put a group in a bus for 40 plus hours and thousands of miles, it can either make them or fracture them. Seeing our team pitch in and do things outside of their job description - from carrying boxes to setting up tables or greeting people as they come into the building - we're all team ambassadors and representing the organization. This group came together and should be proud of how this came off."
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To the towns #VGKRoadTrip hit - thanks so much. To those it missed - the itinerary will mix it up in future years and hit new places.
Saying the Golden Knights want to be the team of the Rockies is a great thought. Now the organization must live it. That's the plan. Happily.