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Las Vegas NHL Team Will Honor Shooting Victims Before Debut Game


In Las Vegas tonight, a welcome distraction, hometown professional hockey. The Golden Knights of the NHL are that city's first major pro sports franchise. Local fans have long anticipated tonight's home opener. But following the mass shooting, the event has taken on a new meaning. NPR's Tom Goldman is in Las Vegas for the game, and he joins me now. And, Tom, this night always was going to be a coming-out party for the new team. What's changed in the aftermath of the shootings?

TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: Well, practically, Robert there'll be a ceremony honoring the victims and those affected - a lengthy ceremony, in fact, that caused team officials to move back the start time for tonight's game. People attending are being advised to show up early. Boards around the rink at T-Mobile Arena here in Las Vegas, which normally have advertising, have been replaced with signs saying Vegas Strong.

As you mentioned, before the shootings, it was going to be easy - an explosion of happiness, a sense of pride in the city for having finally secured a major pro team. But for many fans, it's still going to be a celebration. I talked with 37-year-old Chad Manning. He was born and raised in Las Vegas. He was one of about a hundred fans who showed up this morning to watch the Golden Knights practice. Here he is.

CHAD MANNING: This city's resilient. And it's shown that over the past week. And I think they're going to do something special for the fans tonight and really give - I don't know - maybe healing or some sort of sense of community for everybody. And I think it'll help everybody. And I think that's what pro sports can help a community do.

SIEGEL: But, Tom, this has got to be tough for the players because they they've got to be excited about their first home game and, at the same time, having to absorb this very somber moment for the city.

GOLDMAN: Yes, an excellent point, Robert. But, you know, maybe it's easier for pro athletes because they're expert at compartmentalizing and dealing with emotion and then turning it into action. I asked Deryk Engelland about this. He's a veteran defenseman for the Golden Knights. And here he is.

DERYK ENGELLAND: You know, it's going to be pretty emotional - the ceremony and everything going on. And I think at the end of the day, you got to just put that in the back your mind and just know that you want to win this. This is a big game to win for the city and the guys in this room and the people of Las Vegas and who were affected. And I think you got to channel that emotion and go in to the game coming out hot.

SIEGEL: Now, this is the home opener, but it's actually the team's third game. How have the Golden Knights been doing, Tom?

GOLDMAN: They're undefeated.

SIEGEL: Really?

GOLDMAN: They're 2-0. One of the players talked about getting a text from local firemen - and how the firemen were cheered by those first two wins on the road. The team has a veteran goaltender, Marc-Andre Fleury, who has a lot of winning NHL experience. And another player who so far is a bit of a folk hero, winger James Neal, has scored the winning goal in both the victories so far. So he's set himself up for tonight, hopefully, to do it again.

SIEGEL: Now, I assume the reason Las Vegas hasn't had a major pro sports team until now is sports gambling and the reluctance of leagues to be based in a city where sports betting is legal. What does this mean for Las Vegas?

GOLDMAN: Yeah, it's legal. And, you know, it's a matter of optics, Robert. You know, you don't - (laughter) pro sports leagues have not want to be associated with a city so tied to gambling. And sports gambling, as you point out, is legal in Las Vegas. You know, it means attitudes are changing. It means pro sports are realizing that sports betting can't be ignored. Fantasy sports are a multibillion-dollar industry. People bet on their phones. They bet online.

And, you know, finally, what it means - Las Vegas is a destination spot for people around the world. But having a pro sports franchise gives it even more cachet. The mayor here, Carolyn Goodman, told Sports Illustrated, Las Vegas is a world-class city now. And without sports, you wouldn't say that.

SIEGEL: Thank you, Tom.

GOLDMAN: You're welcome.

SIEGEL: That's NPR's sports correspondent, Tom Goldman, in Las Vegas for tonight's home opener for the National Hockey League's newest team, the Golden Knights.

(SOUNDBITE OF HOUSE OF WATERS' "LA SEMANA") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Tom Goldman is NPR's sports correspondent. His reports can be heard throughout NPR's news programming, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered, and on