Australia Gets Knight Fever
In 1942, the historic National Hockey League consisted of what would become to be known as the “Original Six” — the Boston Bruins, Chicago Blackhawks, Detroit Red Wings, Montreal Canadiens, New York Rangers and Toronto Maple Leafs.
For the next 25 years, the league remained a six-team competition, however, progress and geographical influence was soon stamped on The League as it would undergo 12 expansions, seeing teams in areas which were not traditionally seen as hockey markets join the fold. States such as California, Florida and Arizona landed franchises catapulting the NHL up among the biggest and most successful professional sports leagues in the world.
In 2016, the NHL announced a historic 13th expansion which would take place for the 2017-18 season. Rumours flew left, right and center with names such as Quebec City and Seattle bounced around. However, it was with much fanfare when the announcement was made as te NHL would be land in Sin City itself — Las Vegas, Nevada.
The original response to the expansion to Vegas was met with trepidation from many across the league. Many said “Hockey in the desert just won’t work” and stated that it would be a “test of the sport’s appeal”. But for Vegas locals, it was a breath of fresh air. With the Golden Knights becoming the city’s first professional sports team, locals have embraced the boys in gold with the fandom reaching fever pitch in recent months. The Golden Knights defied all expectations in mid-May by making it all the way to the NHL’s big show — the Stanley Cup final — in becoming just the second expansion team to make the cup finals in their inaugural season in the 100-year history of the league.
Since the Golden Knights arrived on the strip they have defied the odds, labeled ‘The Golden Misfits’ with familiar faces such as goalie Marc-Andre Fleury (originally from the Stanley Cup-winning Pittsburgh Penguins) and young gun forward William ‘Wild Bill’ Karlsson (drafted by the Anaheim Ducks before playing with the Columbus Blue Jackets) leading the way and becoming household names.
In their 82-game inaugural season, the Golden Knights powered their way to a 51-24-7 record, thus exceeding the expectations of many fans and league personnel across the NHL.
Meanwhile, just over 15,000 km away in the most isolated capital city in the world, Golden Knights’ fever reached a growing base of fans in Perth, Australia.
Led by Perth local and Vegas enthusiast Dee Dravo, the Perth fan based has kicked things off “Down Under” for the Golden Knights with a Facebook group labelled ‘Knights Down Under’ being established. A whirlwind trip to Vegas in April saw Dravo receive royal treatment, eventually coming back and attending Golden Knights playoff games. The new hockey fan managed to get up close to the glass for Vegas games, was fortunate to have a chance encounter with Team President Kerry Bubolz as well as a video shout out from his favourite player, Nate Schmidt.
An early morning watch party was organized by Dravo for the Knights’ second-round playoffs matchup with the San Jose Sharks at Cockburn Ice Arena’s Cabin 401 restaurant with the enthusiastic group meeting early for a golden breakfast. The party was not only the start of something special for Golden Knights fans in Australia, but made headlines on an international scale with the story and photos from the event making it to the NHL website!
For many Australians, the concept of ice hockey is a foreign one, with many only familiar with the sport perhaps through the Winter Olympics every four years or the popular Mighty Ducks film series (which is where my own love of the sport was born). However, ice hockey “down under” is bigger than ever with an eight-team national competition, The Australian Ice Hockey League. Growing in popularity every year with each state possessing their own organization, clubs and teams representing the green and gold at the IIHF World Championships, the Facebook group ‘Australian NHL Fans’ recently ticked over the 4,100 member mark.
For many, the allure of the sport lies in the fast-paced, physical nature of the game. Australian Golden Knights fans were surveyed and one stated, “The games are exciting up to the final seconds! Fans are incredibly committed and cities rally behind their teams.” For many Australians, cities they have visited on holidays give them a connection to their chosen NHL team — and for a growing number of fans familiar or even new to the sport that city is Vegas.
Golden Knights fan Victoria Hines from Melbourne stated, “Las Vegas is an amazing city which I have visited a
couple of times and had a great time. It’s only fitting they brought NHL to town to equal the exciting and intense nature of the city,” she said.
Victoria-based fan Andrew Howse loved the injection of fast-paced hockey into the gambling capital of the world. “I began following them due to my love of Vegas as a town,” he said. “As an avid poker player and fan I began hearing more and more about the founding of the franchise. I was hooked as soon as the season started.”
The Golden Knights have owned the slogan ‘Welcome To Impossible’ throughout their remarkable run to the 2018 Stanley Cup Final. They have defied the odds and done what many deemed impossible — to not only win, but to develop strength, resilience and a fan base — not only lighting up the Las Vegas strip, but inspiring legions of new and established hockey fans on the other side of the world in Australia.
So are you thinking about following hockey and perhaps need a nudge in the direction of the Vegas Golden Knights? Gold Coast based fan Kym Panzram was another Aussie who got to experience Golden Knights hockey first hand. “We booked our first trip to Vegas just before they got their franchise,” she said. “My husband has played field hockey for 40 years, and, being mad sports fans, of course we booked tickets to a game while we would be there.
“We have watched every Golden Knights game since,” Panzram added. “Everyone who had been to a live NHL game told us we’d be hooked and boy were they right!”
The National Hockey League can be accessed through www.nhl.com and via NHL Game Centre, available on various streaming and entertainment platforms.
Written by Chris McRae / @ChrisMcRae04
Special to HockeyClan
Main Image: (Photos courtesy of Chris McRae and The Knights Down Under)
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