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Fans across world have fallen for Golden Knights

Vegas helping to grow sport in Australia, other continents

by Nicholas J. Cotsonika @cotsonika / NHL.com Columnist

LAS VEGAS -- The Vegas Golden Knights have a berth in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, and they have a Perth into the playoffs too -- as in Perth, Australia, a city on the Indian Ocean more than 9,500 miles from T-Mobile Arena.

Game 2 of the Western Conference Second Round against the San Jose Sharks started at 8 a.m. Sunday in Perth. But a bar next to an ice rink opened at 7 a.m. and put the game on television with the sound up, so a group of fans could watch and wave rally towels the Golden Knights had shipped overseas.

 

[RELATED: Complete Golden Knights vs. Sharks series coverage]

 

"I'm so sad about the game result," Demi Dravo wrote via email to NHL.com after Vegas' 4-3 loss in double overtime. "But the watch party was fun."

Dravo, a 34-year-old mining inspector, organized the watch party after getting into hockey and following the Golden Knights -- not just from afar, but from Las Vegas to Vancouver to Edmonton to Calgary to Las Vegas to Los Angeles on an epic hockey holiday.

The Golden Knights are helping grow the sport not just in Las Vegas but all over the world.

They made T-shirts that say "I'M FROM [BLANK] BUT I CHEER FOR VEGAS GOLDEN KNIGHTS," thinking their players, local transplants and perhaps fans of eliminated teams would write in their hometowns.

Then, Golden Knights president Kerry Bubolz ran into Dravo at Topgolf in Las Vegas at a watch party for Game 3 of the Western Conference First Round against the Los Angeles Kings.

"I said, 'Well, so what are you doing here?' " Bubolz said. "She's like, 'I just came over for four weeks just to follow the team.' And I'm like, 'What?' … After I met her, it's like, 'Let's think about this in a different way.'"

The Golden Knights asked fans via Twitter: "Where's everyone watching the game from tonight?" They were stunned at their reach. They contacted fans from faraway places via direct message, sent them shirts and created the hashtag #VGKWorldwide. Click on it on Twitter, and you find fans from New Orleans to the Philippines.

Enne Bond, a dealer at Mandalay Bay who got into hockey because of the Golden Knights, got curious between rounds and asked fans on social media where they lived. Bond heard from Australia, Canada, Denmark, England, Finland, Germany, Ireland, Japan, Kuwait, Lithuania, New Zealand, Norway, the Philippines, Puerto Rico, Scotland, South Africa, Sweden and Switzerland.

When an Irish fan couldn't get Golden Knights gear, Bond sent probably a hundred bucks' worth to a perfect stranger.

"The response was overwhelming," Bond wrote in a letter to NHL.com. "It makes my heart so happy and brings a tear to my eye how many fans there are. I love every one of them. I love the world of hockey."

* * * * *

The world of hockey includes Australia. Nathan Walker became the first Australian in the NHL and scored in his debut with the Washington Capitals on Oct. 7. A friend took Dravo to see the Perth Thunder, a semipro team in the Australian Ice Hockey League.

"Live games are so much more fun," she said in an interview via FaceTime. "You're up against the boards. You see the guys smashing into everything. I was like, 'This is really fun.' "

Dravo wanted to watch the NHL in 2017-18. When she chose a team, she chose Vegas because the Golden Knights were new to the sport, just like her.

"All my friends were telling me they were going to be bad, because expansion teams are always bad," she said. "I was like, 'That's fine. I can grow up with them.' And then, yeah, the season they've had has been amazing."

Dravo watched games on television and interacted with fellow Australian NHL fans on Facebook, as the Golden Knights shattered records for expansion teams.

Then she came to see the real thing.

She arrived in Las Vegas on March 30. She was so jet-lagged she was going to watch the Golden Knights play the St. Louis Blues at a bar that night, then attend the regular-season home finale against the Sharks the next night.

"I couldn't stand the idea of sitting next to the game and not actually seeing it," she said. "So I got one of the standing-room tickets. … Through the TV you could hear the crowds, so I was kind of expecting it to be loud, but [television is] nothing compared to the actual atmosphere. That place just rocked."

When the Golden Knights wrapped up the regular season with road games against the Vancouver Canucks, Edmonton Oilers and Calgary Flames, Dravo followed along. In Calgary, she was at a bar before the game and spotted a fan in a Golden Knights jersey outside. She waved him in and struck up a conversation. He had an Aussie accent.

"He's like, 'Yeah, I'm from Perth,' " she said with a laugh. "What are the odds of that?"

Dravo went back to Vancouver to see friends and missed Game 1 of the first round. But she was at Game 2 and at the watch party for Game 3 in Las Vegas, then caught the bus to Los Angeles for Game 4 and saw the Golden Knights complete the sweep of the Kings at Staples Center.

"I had the best time," she said. "Seriously, I came home, and I was like, 'I highly recommend a sports-themed holiday.' … I met fans so many places who were like the nicest people. I had fun at every single event I went to, because I just made friends with the people there. It was so good. It spoiled me for holidays for a while."

* * * * *

Dravo has been taking skating lessons. She bought skates in Canada and brought them home for learn-to-play lessons. When the playoffs are over, it will herald summer in North America but winter Down Under.

"Just as the NHL season is finishing, the local hockey scene is starting up," she said. "So I won't have to have hockey withdrawal."

But first, she's going to savor every morsel of this Golden Knights' run.

Dravo couldn't watch Game 1 of the second round live because of work. Knowing that, knowing the result and knowing the sweet treat fans receive for shutouts in Las Vegas, a friend gave her a gift and told her not to open it until after she had watched the game.

She watched a recording of the Golden Knights' 7-0 win, opened the gift and laughed.

"It's a set of Krispy Kreme donuts," she said.

***

 

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