HENDERSON, Nev. - The girl carried her new stick awkwardly when timidly approaching the street hockey rink. She turned to her father and said, "But I don't know how to play."
Her dad quickly reassured her.
"They're going to teach you," he said.
Minutes later, she was laughing and appeared at ease among a group of youngsters getting a taste of hockey for the first time, thanks to the expansion Vegas Golden Knights.
"Everyone is so excited to learn, and the parents seem to be just as excited as the kids," said Kim Frank, vice president of marketing for the NHL's newest team. "For me, it makes it fun. It gives us energy. The 100-degree heat isn't going to stop us."
The high temperature for the Las Vegas area was expected to hit 104 on Saturday. But that didn't stop hundreds of kids from showing up to learn how to stick handle, pass and shoot with the NHL preparing to enter a market known more for its triple-digit heat than youth hockey.
"Coming into a place like Vegas is absolutely amazing because it is so brand new," said Sean Whyte, the NHL's youth hockey regional director for the Southwest. "I'm very honored and proud to be a part of helping grow the fan base here in Nevada."
It was the third day of Vegas' "Sticks For Kids" clinics that included instruction and a free stick for every participating child. The Arizona-based Whyte, an eighth-round pick (No. 165) in the 1989 NHL Draft who played 21 games with the Los Angeles Kings, put children aged 5-15 through basic drills.
The clinic sessions ended with a scrimmage at the suburban Anthem Hills Park. Time was set aside for needed water breaks as well.
"Hockey for me was my absolute life," Whyte said. "Now for me to have a chance to instill the life values that hockey gives and make sure these kids are having a fun time means the world to me."
Vegas has three players under contract and won't play a real game for another four months. But several children were wearing black or gray Golden Knights T-shirts. Several parents wore Vegas gear, too.
"Obviously, we're still going to be Bruins fans, but we're going to support the team," said Massachusetts native Donald Smith as he watched his sons, Tyler, 9, and Parker, 7. "This is their first interaction with hockey and my oldest seems excited. It's something we're hopefully going to pursue as long as the programs are available."
Golden Knights owner Bill Foley is determined to enhance the youth hockey scene in the desert. They've entered a partnership, producing the newly-named Vegas Junior Golden Knights travel program. When their practice facility is completed this summer, two more sheets of ice will be available to children.
"The first thing is to get sticks into kids' hands," said Frank, who worked in marketing for the Washington Capitals before being hired by the Golden Knights in September. "You get hockey players to start when they're young. Not only that, we just want to make sure that everyone knows the game, that they're excited about the game."
The Golden Knights may also be trying to woo kids to turn their parents into Vegas fans in an area full of transplants. Smith acknowledged his son, Tyler, is likely to side with the local team over his father's Bruins.
"He knows the Bruins are our team, but it is what it is," Smith said, smiling. "And obviously we're going to go to more [Golden] Knights games than Bruins games."