LAS VEGAS - Actor and comedian Brad Garrett isn't just a big fan of the Vegas Golden Knights. He's a BIG fan.
Just a shade under 6-foot-9, the famous co-star of the hugely popular sitcom "Everybody Loves Raymond" has season tickets behind the net at T-Mobile Arena, two rows up from the glass and a little to one side of the goal.
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Aware that at his height he's a better door than window, Garrett jokes that he takes pity on whomever is sitting behind him.
"I turn around and tell them what's happening," he said with a grin Tuesday night at MGM Grand Hotel, speaking backstage shortly before he'd perform as the host of a three-comic bill at Brad Garrett's Comedy Club.
Garrett freely admits he's still baffled by at least a few rules, though this Stanley Cup Playoff season has been a terrific classroom.
"Next to our seats is a real avid fan from Canada," he said, "another big guy ironically named Brad, and I think that Canadians are probably the most polite people in the world. Brad is the nicest guy but during maybe my fifth game this season, he said, 'You know what? I'd love to explain everything to you, but just wait for the break.'
"I am so fascinated and taken by the Golden Knights. Athletics are not my wheelhouse because sports were mean to this uncoordinated kid growing up, a 6-foot-2 14-year-old who never could do a layup. You see what hockey players go through, their agility and strength, and to see it up close, just behind the glass, well, how do they do it? How do they take these hits?"
With that in mind, Garrett has no easy answer on whether he'd prefer to be a goalie, defenseman or forward, skill set permitting.
"Who gets to sit down a lot?" he joked. "I couldn't imagine. … I've always wanted to play a coach in a movie, just to be the captain of anything in the pirate ship of my bathtub."
Garrett, 58, paid no attention to hockey during his childhood and adolescence in California, even if he did get his start in standup comedy at the Ice House in Pasadena. He recalls roller-skating a bit, but with the bulky four wheels framing the boot, not quick wheels mounted in line.
"Sports were never my thing," he said, not a skater today with feet that are pushing size 16. "I'd be almost 7 feet tall on blades now, which scares people. And I've got a corn the size of a canned ham, so I must have that looked at. But other than that, I'm good."
It wasn't until the mid-1980s in Winnipeg, where Garrett had traveled for work, that he attended his first NHL game, the Winnipeg Jets against an opponent he doesn't remember.
"I saw the Jets and then I made the mistake of going to a bar with a couple of the Jets," Garrett said, laughing. "Boy, that was a lot of fun. I was given a Jets jersey. I don't know how that happened but because I drank a little bit too much that weekend, before I went sober 21 years ago, they sent me a jersey with my name and the number .08 on the back (the legal blood-alcohol content level for driving in Manitoba). I'm not proud of that jersey, but it keeps me humble."
In more recent years, Garrett would happen into an occasional NHL arena when a game was played on one of his off days. He speaks of having gone to watch the Calgary Flames, New Jersey Devils and New York Islanders.
A part-time Las Vegas resident for the past 32 years, Garrett, like many others, saw the arrival of the Golden Knights as a bit of a novelty act.
"I've seen this town go through a lot," he said. "I went to my first game here in October, the month of our tragic shooting. Police, firemen, first responders and others were being honored and the energy in that arena was so incredible. To watch this team is amazing. I love their Cinderella story, even if I'm still learning about the game."
Garrett was in his seat for Game 1 Monday, an exciting 6-4 win for the Golden Knights against the Washington Capitals, after having cranked the pregame crowd-stoking T-Mobile Arena siren. He will be in attendance again for Game 2 on Wednesday (8 p.m. ET, NBCSN, SN, TVAS, CBC).
Being owner of his 6-year-old comedy club in the basement of MGM Grand has its advantages; Garrett hastily shuffled the deck a bit on Monday, not opening as host but going on stage postgame at 9 p.m., five minutes after he'd arrived from the nearby arena. He had hollered himself hoarse, almost screaming himself out of Monday's gig.
The club "is my 'Welcome To Impossible,' " Garrett said, borrowing the Golden Knights motto. "People told me there were already seven comedy clubs in Las Vegas. But I said I knew who to hire, how to run it, and we'd be the first comedy club really owned by a comic. We take care of our people, everyone's happy and that trickles down to a content audience. That's the old Vegas I started in."
That was long before the Golden Knights were on any radar. But Garrett has pulled himself onto the bandwagon, swept up in the excitement of a team that has defied the odds at every turn.
"These Vegas players were heroes when this town needed them," Garrett said. "To those who wondered whether Vegas was going to support this team and show up, well, this town is full of nomads. It was built by people from all over the country and Canada and around the world. I'm proud of this town and this team. I'm enjoying watching what might be the most underrated athletes in sports. I've been sucked in like everybody else."
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