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Las Vegas Golden Knights Surprise Everyone As Team Reaches Final In First Year


When Las Vegas got a hockey team this season, no one really took them seriously. Oh, how things have changed. The Golden Knights won, and then they won some more. And tonight, they are playing in the Stanley Cup opener. They're at home against the Washington Capitals. NPR's Leila Fadel sent this report from Las Vegas.


LEILA FADEL, BYLINE: At a Golden Knights' practice this weekend, hundreds of people are in the stands cheering their team on. Two kids hold up a sign. We were born in Vegas, too. That makes us brothers. Outside, there are hundreds more people wishing they were inside watching the first major league pro hockey team Las Vegas has had, well, ever - people like Veronica Swenson and her daughter Madeline standing outside, hoping to spot a player.

VERONICA SWENSON: It really is so exciting, especially the timing. It really brought us together.

FADEL: Swenson, a born and raised Las Vegan, says the team came to the city when it needed healing - the first game just over a week after a mass shooting on the Strip that killed 58 people. The team honored the victims, retired the 58 jersey, donated blood and helped raise money for the cause. And Las Vegas fell in love with them.

SWENSON: We needed it. We were ready for a professional team. It shows how strong Vegas really is.

FADEL: She loves hockey. But she's a new fan and still trying to figure out all the rules. With the team going to the Stanley Cup against all odds, Las Vegas is Golden Knights crazy. You can get Golden Knight-themed manicures in the team's colors. Nearly every casino and restaurant in the city has a Golden Knights-themed menu item, like the Power Play Cocktail at the Juniper Cocktail Lounge in the Monte Carlo or a boozy blueberry milkshake at the Born And Raised Vegas bar called The McFleury, named for the team's goalie, Marc-Andre Fleury...

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Oh, it is very good.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: I'm sure everything here is good.

FADEL: ...Or a $4 hockey puck-shaped fudge mini-cake filled with the Bavarian cream at Chef Flemming's Bake Shop.

FLEMMING PEDERSEN: How much did we sell yesterday, 60?

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: About 60 or so.

FADEL: That's Chef Flemming Pedersen. He put out the hockey puck cakes with the Golden Knight logos a few weeks ago, and he can't keep them on the shelves. Across town, the Big Dog's Brewing tavern will soon be debuting a new beer - Cloudy With A Chance Of Fleury, also an homage to the team's goalie. The bar manager Josh Burns says the team came to Vegas when people needed something happy to rally around in the midst of sadness.

JOSH BURNS: The Knights became part of the community immediately - stepped up in probably the classiest manner I think you could do. And that made it easy for Vegas to fall in love with them.

FADEL: And, man, does this city love them. On game days, this bar is so packed there's barely a place to stand. And it's the same at bars across the city.

BURNS: Well, I guess it's a town of transients, but we all care about each other. We're still a town. We're still a community. So it's nice to have something to bring everyone together.

FADEL: Back at the hockey rink, the team wraps up one of their last practices before they face off against the Washington Capitals today in Las Vegas. Cody Eakin plays with the Knights, drafted in 2009 by the Capitals.

CODY EAKIN: We had everything to prove. I think everyone came in here wanting to prove that they're somebody. They're a player. They could play in this league and be successful. And the way we've done it as a team, it's pretty special.

FADEL: The players jokingly call themselves the Golden Misfits, embracing the doubters as they set records, all with a wildly loyal fan base. Leila Fadel, NPR News, Las Vegas.

KELLY: And don't worry, Caps fans. We're going to hear from you elsewhere in the program when I talk to the team's play-by-play announcer.

(SOUNDBITE OF JEAN LUC PONTY'S "SPEAK OUT") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Leila Fadel is a national correspondent for NPR based in Los Angeles, covering issues of culture, diversity, and race.