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Golden Knights' home opener seen as 'hockey therapy'

Fans in Las Vegas talk healing, sense of community after mass shooting

by Lisa Dillman @reallisa / Staff Writer

LAS VEGAS -- Mark Reichle and his wife, Rainy, crouched in front of the large "R" on Tuesday and wrote their messages of support for their team, the Vegas Golden Knights, and their community.

He was raised in Minnesota, a passionate Minnesota North Stars fan. They have lived in Las Vegas for 22 years and are Golden Knights season ticket holders. Rainey, who grew up in Kaifeng, China, wrote her message in her native language and offered a heartfelt translation.

"Together, be strong, Las Vegas," she said.

The placards, with the letters spelling "VEGAS STRONG" in the Centennial Fan Arena in T-Mobile Plaza, were getting attention from international visitors and locals alike. Even "Elvis of Vegas" made an appearance on the "T," writing: "Viva Las Vegas! Thank You Very Much 1st Responders!!"

Nearby, Golden Knights players and management walked the long and winding gold carpet into T-Mobile Arena, where they were playing the Arizona Coyotes in their inaugural home opener. General manager George McPhee couldn't walk a few feet without stopping for yet another shot with a fan wanting to take a selfie with him. 

The Golden Knights were holding off on some of the previous plans for the home opener, waiting until their next game here, against the Detroit Red Wings on Friday (10:30 pm. ET; ATTSN-RM, FS-D, NHL.TV).

Video: Survivors of the tragedy in Vegas drop puck

On Oct. 1, the worst mass shooting in American history occurred down the Strip from the arena at a country music event. Fifty-eight people died and 489 were injured at the Route 91 Harvest Festival, the Las Vegas Review-Journal said. Earlier that day, the Golden Knights had played their final preseason game against the San Jose Sharks.

"This is hockey therapy," said Eren Scott of Yorba Linda, California.

Healing was a common theme reflected in comments from those in the plaza and near the "VEGAS STRONG" letters.

Video: Golden Knights join first responders on ice

"The best cure is a good community and that's what is here in Las Vegas," said Chris Mathis of Trabuco Canyon, California, whose work in concert production brings him to Las Vegas frequently. "Not only the people who are from Vegas but those of us who care about Vegas, who are willing to come and forget about a jersey being worn and just be here to enjoy a single sport together."

Mathis and Scott are Anaheim Ducks fans who drove together from Orange County to be on hand for this historic night. They purchased their tickets for this game long ago.

"It's the full fan experience," Scott said. "This is 'Vegas Strong.' This is the birth of a new NHL franchise. This is amazing. A once-in-a-lifetime experience."

They, and many others, are finding room in their hearts for the Golden Knights.

Video: Engelland gives rousing speech to hometown fans

"It's going to hurt to say, because as a Ducks fan, it's painful to see a team in the division that I want to love," Mathis said. "But I'm going to."

So, why is that?

"We've got a chance to see a new development," he said. "They've never had any professional sports teams (here). It's going to be magic. I love more competition. Competition brings you great moments you never forget about." 

And the moment created by the Golden Knights and Dallas Stars on Friday, when they showed solidarity by standing together on the ice in Dallas for the national anthem.

"Teams taking the blue line together to be strong," Mathis said.

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