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Golden Knights ready for first game on home ice

Expansion team to host Kings in preseason matchup at T-Mobile Arena

by Nicholas J. Cotsonika @cotsonika / NHL.com Columnist

LAS VEGAS -- Cody Eakin visited T-Mobile Arena for the first time Sept. 16. He went to see the boxing match between Canelo Alvarez and Gennady Golovkin, so there was no ice, no boards, no glass, different lighting.

Still …

"I was trying to picture it," Eakin said.

Eakin plays forward for the Vegas Golden Knights, the NHL expansion team and Las Vegas' first major league professional sports team. At the top of the lower bowl for the boxing match, he sat where hockey fans will sit to watch him.

"It was pretty incredible," Eakin said. "I was pretty impressed. Obviously, it was a different atmosphere, but I was smiling the whole time."

When the Golden Knights play at T-Mobile Arena for the first time, against the Los Angeles Kings in a preseason game Tuesday (10 p.m. ET; NHLN, ATTSN-RM, NHL.TV), it will be a new experience for most everyone.

 

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Coach Gerard Gallant has been to T-Mobile Arena three times: for the press conference when he was hired April 12 and twice to check out the dressing room. A few players appeared there after they were taken in the NHL Expansion Draft on June 21. Some, like Eakin, have been there for a fight or concert. Others have never been there.

One has played there. T-Mobile Arena opened on The Strip on April 6, 2016, and has had two hockey games: the Kings against the Dallas Stars and Colorado Avalanche on Oct. 7-8, 2016, as part of the "Frozen Fury," the preseason series the Kings used to have in Las Vegas. Defenseman Brayden McNabb played for the Kings.

"It was a fun atmosphere," McNabb said. "It kind of felt like the crowd was on top of you."

One other has seen a game there. Goaltender Calvin Pickard sat on the bench as the backup for the Avalanche last year.

"The rink was beautiful," Pickard said. "It was a good crowd. Everything seemed brand new, state-of-the-art facility. … Leaving that rink, it's probably one of the best rinks most of our guys had played in. Our postgame meal was In-N-Out Burger too, so that wasn't bad."

The crowd last year was an interesting mix. There were lots of Kings fans, considering the proximity of L.A. and the following the Kings developed in Las Vegas with the "Frozen Fury." There were Stars and Avalanche fans. Then there were hockey fans who wore jerseys from across the NHL and beyond.

Video: The Vegas Golden Knights play at T-Mobile Arena

Las Vegas had been awarded an NHL franchise, and owner Bill Foley had hired general manager George McPhee. But the team had no logo, no name, no coach and no players. Foley and McPhee did a Q&A with fans at Toshiba Plaza outside T-Mobile Arena with signs and T-shirts that said simply "VEGAS HOCKEY."

It was a glimpse of what hockey in Las Vegas would look like, fans filling The Park between the Monte Carlo and New York New York leading up to Toshiba Plaza and T-Mobile Arena, fans filling the bars and casinos after the game.

This should be a better look ahead of the regular-season home opener against the Arizona Coyotes on Oct. 10 (10 p.m. ET; NBCSN). Will there still be lots of Kings fans? Will there still be jerseys from across the NHL and beyond? Or will this be a predominantly Vegas crowd?

Though this is a preseason game and the Golden Knights will hold back some of the game presentation they have planned, not wanting to spoil the real curtain-raiser, this will be the first time Vegas fans will have a chance to cheer a major league team of their own at home. Season-ticket holders filled the new practice rink in Summerlin, a neighborhood west of the Strip, for the first practices of training camp. 

"I know we're going to have good fans from the start," defenseman Shea Theodore said. "But if we can have a decent crowd for a preseason game, that would be definitely something special to see."

One member of the Golden Knights has played for a Las Vegas team at home before. Defenseman Deryk Engelland played for Las Vegas of the ECHL in 2003-04 and 2004-05.

"Obviously playing East Coast is a little different, a lot smaller crowd, but there's a lot of excitement, a lot of passion," Engelland said. "We had great crowds for the East Coast, I think 5,500-ish when I played here, so I'm expecting the same sort of crowd, that excitement.

"The first few games is going to be a lot of adrenaline for the fans almost, because it's finally come, and then everyone will settle in and hopefully it just takes off as a loud building and a fun environment to play in." 

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