What makes a town a hockey town? The list is up for debate but certainly Las Vegas is beginning to check off more and more boxes and another went down last night when Gage Quinney became the first Nevada-born and Vegas-born player to skate in the NHL.
That Quinney did it for his hometown Golden Knights and in front of a partisan crowd sprinkled with family and friends was even more special.
"I didn't nap today. The heart was really racing. By the time the puck dropped, it's just another hockey game. I think I was able to settle in."
Seeing all the fans and photos everywhere and the jerseys. Just to know that Vegas is a hockey town now and that I was able to represent them," said Quinney, late Saturday night after playing in his first NHL game at T-Mobile Arena.
"Growing up, people would laugh if you said you played hockey in Vegas, and now it's a hockey hot bed. Everybody wants to come here and play. It's just exciting to see the growth and I want to keep seeing what happens."
Quinney played almost 10 minutes and while he was held off the scoreboard his line was effective and produced a goal.
"It's just exciting. I'm feeling just happiness. I still don't have words to describe it, but to be able to put this jersey on and play in front of the hometown was really exciting," said the 24-year-old. "It took me a couple of shifts to realize that it's just another hockey game at the end of the day. Obviously, circumstances are different, but it's just another game."
Quinney's dad Ken played for the IHL's Las Vegas Thunder from 1993 to 1998 and Gage was born in 1995. The Thunder played out of Thomas and Mack while the ECHL's Wranglers were housed at The Orleans.
Times have changed when it comes to hockey in Nevada.
Vegas has a team in the NHL and will soon have an AHL franchise too. It has the most electric arena in the sport and a passionate fanbase which has kept the Golden Knights performing in above capacity crowds for every home game the team has ever played. City National Arena in Summerlin hums with activity on a daily basis. Lifeguard Arena in Henderson will open this fall. The Golden Knights have announced plans for another arena in Henderson to house its AHL club.
Last season, Vegas sent a team to the Quebec International Pee-Wee Tournament in Quebec, Canada. It was the first time a Vegas Jr. Golden Knights club played in the tournament widely considered the preeminent competition for 11-12-year-olds in the world. And the Jr. Golden Knights 11-12 team is back in Quebec this year.
The USA Olympic Team needed a place to celebrate its 40th anniversary and it chose Vegas. Legendary broadcaster Al Michaels, assistant coach Craig Patrick as well as team captain Mike Eruzione and a slew of his teammates spend the weekend in Vegas including taking part in pregame ceremonies at T-Mobile on Saturday.
"It was really cool. That was definitely awesome to see. I guess the only glimpse that I've ever seen was in the movie (Miracle) but that's really it, so it was really cool to see them," said Quinney.
Quinney got his minor hockey start in Vegas before moving to Canada for his junior career.
"Yeah, I don't know how many parents helped with the 5-hour car rides to California and Arizona every weekend. I'm just really thankful that I had supportive parents," he said.
The Golden Knights have instituted programming to grow the game in Nevada and have 4,832 children enrolled in its skating academy as well as 2,025 kids playing hockey in its in Lil' Knights program.
Quinney's story is the first bow tied on the growth of hockey in the Silver State, but his homegrown story isn't the reason that General Manager Kelly McCrimmon called him up from the Chicago Wolves. It's because he's earned the look.
"This is a really special night for Gage," McCrimmon said before his debut. "He's here because he deserves to be here. He's been a great player in Chicago. Rocky Thompson refers to him as their best player night in and night out in terms of the contribution he makes down there. I'm excited for Gage and his family. It's a neat story with him being Nevada-born, but that's not why this played out like it did. He's here because he's earned the opportunity."