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Golden Knights fans who survived shooting name baby after Smith

Daughter born week before Stanley Cup Final

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

LAS VEGAS -- The baby was born at Summerlin Hospital in Las Vegas on May 18, likely the youngest survivor of the mass shooting on the Strip on Oct. 1. Her mother was four or five weeks pregnant when her parents escaped the Route 91 Harvest Festival unharmed.

All she needed was a name.

Brad and Lauren Sugars wanted to be surprised, so they didn't find out ahead of time if the baby was a boy or a girl. They thought they might go with Hunter for a boy or Austyn for a girl -- or Austin, maybe. Even the spelling was up for debate.

 

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But Austyn (or Austin) didn't feel right for some reason. Lauren was exhausted and didn't want to decide that day. She told Brad to go to the game, because the Vegas Golden Knights were playing the Winnipeg Jets in Game 4 of the Western Conference Final at T-Mobile Arena.

Brad took the oldest two of their five kids -- Coby, 16, and Mackenzie, 15 -- and watched with family and friends as Jets defenseman Dustin Byfuglien fanned on a shot with the score tied 2-2 in the third period. Golden Knights forward Reilly Smith raced up the left wing and snapped a shot past goaltender Connor Hellebuyck, bar down, and the fans roared.

"What about Riley?" Mackenzie asked.

Hmmm.

"What about Riley?" Brad texted Lauren.

The Golden Knights won 3-2 and took a 3-1 lead in the best-of-7 series. The NHL expansion team was one win from the Stanley Cup Final in its inaugural season.

The next day, the Sugars family huddled. Coby brought up the movie "Inside Out" about a hockey-loving girl named Riley.

"It sort of made it perfect, this hockey playing kid in this movie that's as cute as [can be]," Brad said. "Reilly scores the goal the night before, and we're all sitting in the hospital room and just go, 'Name is chosen.'"

About a month ago, Smith had a first cousin name his first-born son after him. But this? It's yet another inspirational story about this team, tied 1-1 with the Washington Capitals in the Stanley Cup Final entering Game 3 on Saturday (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, SN, TVAS).

"It's nice to have something like that happen," Smith said, smiling. "Reilly [or Riley] is a pretty common name, but at the same time, it's nice to see that we're part of the culture here and fans are able to get behind us and support us."

* * * * *

Brad and Lauren didn't know Lauren was pregnant when they went to Route 91. They had spent a couple of days at the festival as they did each year, having a great time listening to country music.

It was a little after 10 p.m. on a Sunday, Jason Aldean on stage as the final act, when Brad heard three noises. He noticed a cameraman and a security guard look around to see what it was. He assumed it was fireworks, or maybe a problem with the sound system.

Aldean stopped performing. The lights came on.

"And then you heard it," Brad said.

People screamed to take cover and get down. But no one knew the shots were coming from one gunman on the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay across Las Vegas Boulevard. It was confusion, panic, chaos.

Brad and Lauren were on the east side of the stage and saw people getting hit. They took cover with others for about five or six minutes in a metal container used as a suite for the concert. Bullets came through a window in front, which meant the shots were coming from the west. Brad and friend Marshall Nisbett came up with a plan: run, and if separated, meet at Hooters Casino Hotel east on Tropicana Avenue. It would be easy to find because of its big sign.

"Some guy came and yelled, 'Get out! Get out! Get out!'" Brad said. "I don't know why, but we all just trusted to just go at that point in time. Thank God, because a few weeks later, Marshall went back to look. They'd cut a big hole in the metal thing that we were hiding in, where all the bullets had gone through, right where Lauren and I were."

Brad and Marshall sent Lauren ahead and made sure everyone got out during a pause in the gunfire. When it resumed, they took cover again. As Lauren ran, someone near her got hit, and she dove under a car and hid. Brad and Marshall ran during the next pause and found a gap in a fence. Marshall went to get his car at his office about a mile away and told Brad he'd meet them at Hooters. Brad went to look for Lauren.

Finally, after about 11 minutes, he reached her by phone. By that time, the shooting had stopped, but no one knew it was over. Brad was ahead of Lauren but couldn't go back because police had set up a perimeter. Cars were speeding in every direction as people tried to escape and get the wounded to the hospital. Brad eventually found Lauren with a bunch of people behind a big electrical box near the airport. They took off for Tropicana Avenue, trying to find Marshall and his car.

"There was a cop on the corner at Trop, and he said, 'Keep going. Keep going. We don't know what's happening. Just keep running,' " Brad said. "So we did. And finally [Marshall] got us, and we all got the heck out of there."

* * * * *

Fifty-eight people were killed and hundreds injured in the worst mass shooting in modern American history, and the people of Las Vegas rallied around each other. Including Smith, one of 10 players locked down in a restaurant at The Cosmopolitan until about 2 a.m., the Golden Knights visited victims, families, first responders and blood donors.

"The entire city responded in a way that really does remind me that Vegas is home to a lot of people," Lauren said. "It's not just a tourist destination. Thousands of people showed their support by donating to the blood banks and giving their time and energy. There was a huge community response."

But everything reminded Brad and Lauren of what happened, and so they had to get away. Lauren went to her parents' house outside of Boston while Brad went on a business trip to England. Lauren found herself sleeping all day, not eating, feeling sick. She thought it was because of the shooting.

"We had both spoken to counselors," Lauren said. "I spoke to my doctor on the phone. I said, 'We have to talk about a long-term plan, because I have four kids. I have to get out of bed in the morning.'"

Then she went grocery shopping and found herself buying applesauce. She thought to herself in the checkout line, "The last time I wanted applesauce, I had twins." She went back and bought a pregnancy test.

It was positive, in more ways than one.

"We were not planning another child," Brad said. "Four is plenty. Five is crazy. What the heck? It just sort of helped us move forward. The whole city's been able to move on because of the positivity of what this team has brought for us. We were lucky because we got a reason to move on right from the get-go."

Brad is originally from Brisbane, Australia, and has lived in Las Vegas for 13 years. Lauren is originally from Boston and has lived here about eight years. They were casual hockey fans who had gone to see Las Vegas of the ECHL play at Orleans Arena on occasion, but that changed when the city landed an NHL team, its first major league sports team.

"Once there was an opportunity for just any professional sports team to come to Vegas, so many of us were like, 'This is what solidifies this being an amazing, amazing city to live in,'" Lauren said.

An entrepreneur who owns ActionCOACH, a business coaching company in 77 countries, Brad went in on a suite to entertain clients, friends and family. He bought each family member a jersey: He took No. 18 James Neal. Lauren took No. 88 Nate Schmidt. Coby got No. 29 Marc-Andre Fleury. Mackenzie got No. 71 William Karlsson. Colton, 4, got No. 19 Reilly Smith, and his twin sister, Addison, got No. 5 Deryk Engelland.

"Now," Lauren said, "we basically have a hockey team."

Colton looks for Smith on the ice and gets excited when he sees him.

"That's my number!" he shouts. "That's my number!"

When he came home from school Tuesday, Brad asked who his favorite player was.

"Reilly Smith!"

* * * * *

Riley was days old when her parents heard from a friend. Emily Jillette is the wife of Penn Jillette of Penn & Teller, the magicians and entertainers who perform at Rio All-Suite Hotel and Casino. She's also a Golden Knights fan who has gone to games with the Sugars.

Penn & Teller were filming a promo for NBC with the Stanley Cup.

"She said, 'Listen, can you get down here this afternoon? The Cup will be in the theater,' " Brad said.

So there Brad was Sunday -- a survivor of Oct. 1, a Golden Knights fan, a proud father -- looking at his Vegas-born daughter cradled in the bowl of the Stanley Cup on the eve of the Final.

It's the life of Riley.

"It's just the magic of this city," Brad said. "This city has a magic to it, and there's no other way to describe it."

 

***

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