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HISTORY OF HOCKEY IN VEGAS

by Staff Writer / Los Angeles Kings
For 10 years now, the Kings have brought hockey to Las Vegas once a year in the preseason series dubbed Frozen Fury.

But how do Las Vegaens get their hockey fix the other 364 days of the year?

The answer, not very easily.

STAPLES Center, home of the Kings, is 272 miles away from Las Vegas, the Honda Center, home of the Ducks, is 265 miles away and Jobbing.com Arena where the Phoenix Coyotes play is 287 miles, definitely a tough drive to hold season tickets for any of the Western Conference teams.

So that leaves minor league hockey.

One team of note was the Las Vegas Thunder, which played at the Thomas and Mack Center on the Campus of UNLV from 1993-94 until closing up shop on April 18, 1999.

That 1993-94 season, former King Butch Goring was the head coach.

“I heard that the Las Vegas Thunder was going to be a hockey team and I thought it would be a lot of fun to go to Vegas,” Goring told LAKings.com during a phone interview on Friday. “My experience brings back nothing but positive memories, the fans were wonderful, we played in front of a full house at the Thomas and Mack and we just had a lot of fun.

“Everything was great, the fans, the people on the streets, we were well received. It was a great year for us.”

The Las Vegas Thunder was an independent hockey team that played in the International Hockey League. Partly due to the location of playing in Vegas and partly because of that independent status, the Thunder attracted a lot of talent, including many NHL players.

“The IHL was a pretty good hockey league in the early 90s,” Goring recalled. “Whenever a player had contract problems, he would go to the IHL, because they were not affiliated with the NHL or the AHL for the most part. So we had some pretty good free agents sign there or play there while they worked out their contract situations.

“It was an opportunity for players to play while working out their issues.”

Along the way the team saw former Duck Ruslan Salei, former King Pavol Demitra, former NHL player and current Columbus Blue Jackets goaltending coach Clint Malarchuk, Bryan Fogarty, Sergei Zholtok, Curtis Joseph, Paul DiPietro, Radek Bonk, Peter Ing, Petr Nedved, Alexei Yashin and even Brent Gretzky, Wayne Gretzky’s brother.

But that is the past.

Since 2003-04, Sin City has been called home by the Las Vegas Wranglers, the ECHL affiliate of the Calgary Flames. The Wranglers might be best known for their annual Midnight game, perfect for a city like Las Vegas. You can read up on the Wranglers, here.

The city also sports a youth hockey program over at Las Vegas Ice (more information), highlighted by “Learn to Play Hockey 1, 2, 3,” which is an all Year round program designed to teach the beginner skater (ages 4-14) basic Skating and Hockey skills, though the state of Nevada has yet to produce an NHLer.

Plans to build an arena in downtown Las Vegas and possibly home an NHL franchise has recently been announced as well, though there is nothing absolutely eminent on the expansion front at the moment.

But Goring sees this as a great development.

“I thought it was a natural, the fans are very supportive, the population has grown dramatically over the last 5-10 years, and obviously, there is enough money there to support a team.

“More importantly, I think Las Vegas can be an amazing hockey town, they are already a bunch of sports nuts.”

The Kings and Avalanche face off tonight at the MGM Grand for their 10th installment of the Frozen Fury.

You can read up on the history of Frozen Fury on LAKings.com.

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