Deer Lodge, Montana - The whole thing had the feel of a scene from Mystery, Alaska.
A big-league team bus pulled into town and everyone it seemed left work or play for a few hours to gather at a community rink with the run-of-the-mill name of Stumptown Ice Den.
Hall of Famer Lanny McDonald had his famous moustache pressed against the glass. His grandchildren among the 150 or so kids on the ice. Isaac Jensen was out for a twirl under the watchful eye, or more accurately the ever-present sniffer of his diabetic alert dog, Oshie. Golden Knights vice president and Whitefish resident Murray Craven had squeezed into his Bauer 1000s (circa 2000 he claimed). Former NHLer David Booth made the drive over. So did long-time pro turned coach Doug Houda. There were families from Missoula and Great Falls and even Cranbrook over the Canadian border.
Golden Knights owner Bill Foley watched from the stands with a smile on his face which mixed civic pride with satisfaction and the joy of youth. Foley might have crossed the threshold of 70 but he looked every bit the kid on this evening.
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Whitefish is the place where Foley and his consiglieri Craven first started talking about bringing an NHL team to Las Vegas so it's fitting it was a stop on the inaugural Golden Knights Road Trip.
"I was sitting on my dock in a lounge chair and Bill and his wife Carol pulled up and we had a nice chat. I think we were planning a golf game," recalls Craven. "Then as I got ready to push them off the dock, Bill said to me, 'By the way, I'm thinking about putting and NHL expansion team in Las Vegas.' My language at the time isn't suitable for print but I basically told him he was crazy."
That was four years ago and lots of hard work, vision, risk and dollars later, the Golden Knights are a reality.
Foley's vision for the team included broadcasting its games into Montana, Utah and Idaho as well as the team's home state of Nevada. A deal with AT&T Sportsnet has brought this to life and the organization has taken a week out of a crazy busy summer to try and reach its fans outside of Nevada.
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Foley, Craven, a handful of players and head coach Gerard Gallant are included on the tour.
Prospects Alex Tuch and Jake Bischoff made it to Montana.
Craven began vacationing in Whitefish as a kid and purchased his lakeside home in 1991. When the town needed a new rink - he joined the fundraising committee and helped get Stumptown built.
The rink's façade features timbers and stone. If not for the ice plant and pad it could fit in along the lake. And it's a gathering place for the town.
"We come here for the hockey and the conversation and the friendship," said Chris Jensen.
Jensen's son Isaac has Type 1 diabetes. Early on during the free clinic hosted by Craven, Tuch and Bischoff, he made his way down to the ice and called over his son Isaac. Isaac's alert dog Oshie - named after NHLer T.J. Oshie and trained to detect the scent of high or low blood sugar levels - had sniffed out an irregularity. Chris Jensen waved over Isaac - they made a quick adjustment and Isaac went back to hockey.
Later as the kids and their families streamed out of the rink - Isaac stopped for a chat with a reporter.
"Arizona is my favorite team. Because of Max Domi (who also has Type 1 diabetes). But Vegas is getting close," said Isaac, by this point wearing a Golden Knights had and T-shirt. "I'd like to come to Vegas to see a game. Maybe that will get the Knights over the top."