LAS VEGAS --
Hockey may not be the most natural fit in this desert oasis, but it sure made itself at home Wednesday night as it kicked off the 2009 NHL Awards show stay here with a Presenters Welcome Reception.
A bevy of hockey luminaries gathered at the luxurious Sky Villa -- a gorgeous suite 28 floors up, overlooking The Strip -- to kick off 48 hours of celebration of the just-completed 2008-09 season.
After a long run in Toronto, the Awards Show moved to the desert to try to raise the sport's profile even more than an epic season and unbelievable Stanley Cup Playoffs have already done.
"Las Vegas is known as a pre-eminent destination, as an entertainment capital," NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said Wednesday night. "Being here, with the excitement and fun that people have by coming to Vegas, makes this a bigger event."
Hall of Famer Mark Messier
, one of several hockey luminaries to make their way up to the suite, couldn't have agreed more. In fact, he wished he was still playing:
"I should have hung around a few more years for this opportunity." Messier told NHL.com as he looked out the room's floor-to-ceiling window at The Strip. "It really puts the NHL in the spotlight it deserves on an international level. We've come a long way in the last 20 years; we've come a long way in the last 10 years and the sport continues to grow in the United States and get stronger in Europe. To have this kind of awards ceremony in Vegas is a very positive step.
Even the old-timers agreed.
Pat Burns, who won the Jack Adams
Award three times, was happy to be invited to Vegas, where he will present this year's Jack Adams
"I think it is really good for our sport," Burns told NHL.com. "I think it is a great decision to be out here because it's a show-type place and it's showcasing the League. I think it is good to have change like that."
At first, Burns was hesitant to see the Awards show moved from its traditional home in Toronto, but he came around pretty quick.
"I've been to Toronto enough times," he said, chuckling. "But, at the start, I was like Vegas? But as soon as you came in here, you noticed how much everybody got into this."
There is definitely a different vibe for this Awards week. Maybe it is the electricity that is the lifeblood of this city, but everyone seemed excited -- even George Maloof, the owner of the Palms Casino Resort and the host for this event.
"It really puts the NHL in the spotlight it deserves on an international level. We've come a long way in the last 20 years; we've come a long way in the last 10 years and the sport continues to grow in the United States and get stronger in Europe. To have this kind of awards ceremony in Vegas is a very positive step." -- Mark Messier
Maloof's business is to sell excitement, so it would be understandable if he was blasé about what was going on Wednesday. But, he wasn't.
"This is sending chills down my spine," Maloof told NHL.com just after getting his photo taken with Messier. "This is so exciting that it is unbelievable."
And, the Presenters Reception is only an opening act. The actual NHL Awards Show is Thursday at the Pearl Theater here. The show can be seen on Versus in the U.S. starting at 7:30 p.m. ET, and at 8:30 p.m. ET on CBC.
In fact, as the media and hockey luminaries enjoyed the view and appetizers discussing the upcoming awards, it was hard to find a detracting word. Hard but not impossible, though.
"I lost a lot less money in Toronto," joked Stan Mikita
, the Chicago Blackhawks
But, even Mikita came around after a few minutes.
"It's a great thing for the NHL to give it that much more exposure," Mikita said.