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Golden Knights begin bus tour across region

Will travel to events in Idaho, Montana, Utah this week

by Nicholas J. Cotsonika @cotsonika / Columnist

COEUR D'ALENE, Idaho -- This is how it starts.

The Vegas Golden Knights won't begin their inaugural NHL season until Oct. 6, when they visit the Dallas Stars, and won't play their first home game until Oct. 10, when they host the Arizona Coyotes.

Goaltender Calvin Pickard has played for them only in his imagination.

Yet Tuesday, in a quiet resort town 1,100 miles away from The Strip, was a bus with Golden Knights logos and a message on the sides in all caps: PUCK DROPS OCT. 10.

And here was Pickard in a Golden Knights hat and sweatsuit, holding a microphone in front of a group of fans at Frontier Ice Arena before a public skate and autograph session.

"Let's go have some fun," he said.

The expansion team is going to great lengths to connect with fans and create new ones.

The Golden Knights plan to be active in the Las Vegas community. But owner Bill Foley wants to establish them as the team of the western Rockies, and their local TV territory extends to Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, Utah and parts of Arizona and California.

During the season, there won't be time to reach out to these places. So they're doing it this week with the Vegas Golden Knights Road Trip, a bus tour through Idaho, Montana and Utah featuring events and appearances by Foley, coach Gerard Gallant and players.

"I think it's a great idea," Pickard said. "We've got a big geographical fan base here, going from Vegas all the way up to Idaho, so it's nice to gather up a good group of fans and spread the word about us playing hockey starting in October.

"They're going to be watching our games every night, so they're going to make connections with us. So it's nice to start that early."

Staffers piled into the bus in Las Vegas on Monday and rode 13 hours to Idaho Falls, Idaho. They woke up Tuesday and rode seven more hours to Coeur d'Alene, best known in hockey terms as the summer home of Wayne Gretzky and the birthplace of the Gretzky Hockey School.

They stopped at a hotel for Pickard, who flew in from his home in Winnipeg just for this, and arrived at the rink about 3:30 p.m. PT. Within minutes, staffers had inflated a huge Golden Knights jersey outside the front door, set up a merchandise table in the lobby, put up temporary logos all over the place, and hung a permanent banner near the ice, planting their flag. They will plant one at each stop.

Tweet from @GoldenKnights: -New tracksuit-New hat-New glovesAnd for @cpickard1, there's also some new Golden Knights fans to meet in Coeur d'Alene. #VGKRoadTrip

Before the skate started at 5:45 p.m., people started streaming through the doors.

The Yates family came from outside Calgary to vacation outside Spokane, Washington, about 30 minutes west. Clayton Yates, 14, saw on Instagram that the Golden Knights were making an appearance in Coeur d'Alene.

"I came running in the camper and told my parents," Clayton said.

Clayton and his brother, Rohdy, 11, already had become Golden Knights fans.

"That way I can say I was a fan from Day One," he said.

So the family drove to Coeur d'Alene so the boys could skate with Pickard. Clayton wore a Golden Knights hat and T-shirt.

Ryan Brady, 19, and his brother, Matt, 23, came from Pullman, Washington, about 90 minutes south. Not only were they already Golden Knights fans, they were season-ticket holders at T-Mobile Arena. Section 227. Row K. They're going to try to make as many games as they can based on their schedules.

Video: The Vegas Golden Knights kick off their road trip

"We figured it was a really good time to find a new team that was close to us," Ryan said. "We kind of bounced around NHL teams, and then Vegas was popping up. We just got really excited we could be wholeheartedly into a team.

"It means a lot just to have a new team and have someone to get behind, but I think it's just amazing how they're going out of their way to cover their region. They're really going out of their way to interact with the community outside of Vegas."

Jordon Evans, 18, of Post Falls, Idaho, used to live in Providence, Rhode Island, and wore a Boston Bruins jacket to the skate. But after Pickard sidled up next to him and chatted with him for a couple laps, he said he definitely would watch the Golden Knights on television.

Will he buy a Golden Knights shirt too?

"I already did," he said.


[RELATED: Golden Knights Road Trip Blog]

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