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History of Hockey in Las Vegas

A look back at all the hockey teams that played in Las Vegas

by Dan Marrazza @GoldenKnights /

When the 2017-18 hockey season begins, it will be the first NHL campaign to ever feature a team from Las Vegas.

Although this is Las Vegas's first foray into NHL competition, hockey isn't new to Southern Nevada.

The Wranglers and Thunder are probably Las Vegas's most famous former hockey teams. There have, however, been EIGHT minor league or semi-pro teams to have called Las Vegas home before our NHL team arrived.

This includes every league (but not junior leagues, amateur or school teams) where players were paid to play for a Las Vegas team.

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How many of these teams do you remember?

Las Vegas Gamblers (California-Nevada Hockey League, 1968-71)

It didn't come with the fanfare that accompanied this city's entry into the NHL on June 22, but (semi) pro hockey in this city dates all the way back to 1968

That year, the Las Vegas Gamblers began as a senior amateur team, but grew into a semi-pro squad that played in the California-Nevada Hockey League (although rumors persist that many of these players were unpaid, which would negate its semi-pro transition). That same league later morphed into the Pacific Southwest Hockey League, and then into the West Coast Hockey League, before disbanding in the mid-1990s. 

Before it ceased to exist, this league, throughout all of its incarnations, housed two separate Las Vegas franchises, as well as three in Reno (the Gamblers, Renegades and Aces).

Las Vegas Outlaws (Independent, 1971-73)

Like the Gamblers before them, the Las Vegas Outlaws' stay on the hockey scene was a short.

The Outlaws were semi-pro, playing independently from a single league against a variety of opponents, for two seasons from 1971-73. With this unconventional setup, the Outlaws - who kind of were Outlaws - put together one of the best single-season records of any hockey team in Las Vegas history - the inaugural 1971-72 team went 29-8-4-0.

Their star was a little forward from Lucky Lake, Saskatchewan named Bryant Bogren, who racked up 30 goals and 67 assists during the team's banner 1971-72 season.

Las Vegas Thunder (International Hockey League, 1993-99)

The first Las Vegas hockey team to make a splash on the national scene, the Thunder stormed their way into the International Hockey League in 1993.

Averaging more than 8,000 fans per game at the Thomas and Mack Center in their inaugural season, the Thunder iced some of the best and most interesting personalities in the game, either before or in the midst of their NHL careers. (Watch Below: Thunder commercials featured lots of stick throwing)

Radek Bonk and Alexei Yashin, both high first-round NHL draft picks of the Ottawa Senators (Bonk was No. 3 overall in 1994; Yashin No. 2 in 1992), played some of their first North American pro games with the Thunder.

Curtis Joseph, the fourth winningest goalie in NHL history, briefly tore up IHL competition in 1995-96, when he was in a contract dispute with the St. Louis Blues. Manon Rheaume, the only woman to ever play in an NHL (preseason) game (1992 for Tampa Bay), played for the Thunder in 1994-95.

By the time they exited the IHL in 1999, the Thunder never won a championship, but captured a pair of division championships.

Las Vegas Flash (Roller Hockey International, 1993-94)

In the mid-1990s, there existed a league called Roller Hockey International. It played games over the summer, often in NHL arenas looking to fill dates during the offseason, with team owners ranging from Mark Messier to Tony Danza.

Las Vegas twice housed RHI teams, with the first playing out of Thomas and Mack Center. This team was the Las Vegas Flash, who are probably remembered more for their colorful logo (pictured below) than play on the sports floor - the Flash won only six of their 22 games.

Ken Morrow, an Olympic gold medal-winner with the 1980 "Miracle on Ice" team, coached the Flash. The roster was headlined by Walt Poddubny, an NHL veteran with 184 career goals to his name who was playing out the final stretch of his career.

Las Vegas Aces (Pacific Southwest Hockey League, 1994-95)

The Aces were members of the semi-pro PSHL for one season in the mid-1990s before being flushed from the local scene.

The roster was headlined by Larry Melnyk, a Stanley Cup-winning defenseman with the Edmonton Oilers who played in the NHL throughout the 1980s with Edmonton, the Boston Bruins, New York Rangers and Vancouver Canucks.

After retiring in 1990, Melnyk made a comeback attempt with the Aces - he and the team only lasted one season.

Las Vegas Ice Dice (North American League, 1995)

The Ice Dice didn't have the most memorable stay on the hockey scene, joining the North American League in 1995, but disbanding before they actually played a game.

The most memorable aspect of this team was that it, in fact, was a hockey team called the "Ice Dice."

Las Vegas Coyotes (Roller Hockey International, 1998-99)

Other than their awesome logo the Coyotes were moderately successful in their one season, going 16-7-0-3 and averaging about five-and-a-half goals per game.

At the time, however, the RHI was on its last legs. Both the team and the league disbanded following the 1998-99 season.

Las Vegas Wranglers (ECHL, 2003-15)

The most recent, and maybe most memorable, hockey team to call Las Vegas home was the ECHL's Wranglers.

Winning records in nine of their 11 seasons, three runs to the conference final and 19 players that skated in the NHL. Zany off-ice promotions, including Rod Blagojevich Prison Uniform Night and a special performance from The Blue Man Group (watch below).

Their combination of on-ice success and off-ice shenanigans made the Wranglers the hockey standard in this town for a long time.

And in the end, the Wranglers served as the final professional hockey team in this town, leading to Las Vegas's arrival onto the NHL landscape in 2016.

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