Las Vegas has always been a lot of fun — too much fun in a lot of cases — but I’ve got to admit I wasn’t convinced hockey was a fit for Sin City when the NHL handed the expansion keys to the Vegas Golden Knights. Losing your shirt (and pants) gambling? Sure. Night life? Duh! The occasional face tattoo? Why the heck not? But hockey?
I love the town. I honeymooned there with Sam’s mom. Between trips for fun, covering the Edmonton Trappers in the old PCL when they’d hit Nevada to play the Las Vegas Stars and chronicling the pugilistic rise of Edmonton flyweight Scotty Olson, I’ve been there somewhere around 30 times. I even saw a hockey game there, back in 1995-96 when Curtis Joseph was with the Las Vegas Thunder of the IHL before joining the Edmonton Oilers.
What we’re seeing so far with the Golden Knights, though, is not that. To understate, they’ve been a huge hit — in large part because the team has been far better than anybody could reasonably expect. The joint has been jumping and T-Mobile Arena been a rowdy, fun place to watch hockey. Oilers’ fans, thousands of them, and Oilersnation got in on some of the action Saturday for Edmonton’s first trip into Las Vegas, Connor McDavid’s 21st birthday and a 3-2 overtime win.
From belting out the national anthem to singing Happy Birthday to McDavid to the uproar when Darnell Nurse scored the overtime winner, legions of fans who made the roadie from Edmonton did Oil Country proud Saturday while looking for a good time and being the life of the party — even if this season has fallen well short of qualifying as that. That was a lot of fun to watch, even from afar. Well done.
I’m not sure how long the dice will stay hot for the Golden Knights in a town where fortunes can turn on a dime, but they’ve been the story of the year, and by a longshot, in the NHL this season.
COMING OUT PARTY
Speaking of things I didn’t expect, at least not to this degree: we’re seeing Nurse’s game grow in leaps and bounds before our eyes this season. Still two weeks short of his 23rd birthday and with just 161 games on his NHL resume, Nurse has been putting all the tools we’ve seen flashes of — he’s a terrific skater with a nasty streak who can move the puck and cover a lot of ice — together. He looks like money in the bank right now.
Nurse’s winner Saturday came a night after he hammered home a couple of wicked clappers top shelf in a win over the Arizona Coyotes. Through 46 games, Nurse has tallied 6-12-18 and is averaging 21:24 of ice time per game. For my money, he’s been Edmonton’s best D-man this season with Oscar Klefbom and Adam Larsson having struggled with nagging injuries.
While it’s fun to think about what Nurse’s ceiling might be and project how good he might become, let’s resist some of the old pitfalls that come when a player is feeling it like Nurse is. There’s no need to insist that GM Pete Chiarelli ink him to an eight-year deal now or trade Klefbom to address other needs because Nurse is the man. We know better. The latest example of that is Klefbom — his coming out party was just last season but he’s struggled. Of course, fans will do it anyway. Watch and enjoy.
— Milan Lucic (@27MilanLucic) January 14, 2018
I don’t care what happened in the casinos or the clubs in Las Vegas after the game, nobody got luckier Saturday than Milan Lucic, who had the right side of his neck cut by the skate of Tomas Nosek during a play that didn’t seem like anything noteworthy at the time. Lucic, who skated to the bench under his own power after the play for what looked like a normal change, took what looks like seven or eight stitches to the neck.
Back in 1985 while working as the sports editor at the Peace Arch News in White Rock, B.C., I had to cover the story of a young hockey player, Jeffrey Butler, a Portland Winterhawks prospect, who died after having his neck cut by a skate in a BCJHL game. We sometimes forget the potential dangers players face out on the ice, be they the expected bumps and bruises or freak plays like Lucic was involved in, but they are real. I still think of Jeffrey and his family whenever a close call like Lucic happens.
RONNIE BACK ON BOARD
I mentioned in an earlier item that I’m on board with Hockey Helps The Homeless for their 2018 event in Edmonton May 11. I’m happy to say that since then, former Oiler player and coach Ron Low has let us know that he’ll be involved again after taking a year off. I’ve never met a more down-to-earth, honest guy in the game of hockey than Low, who was head coach of the Oilers from 1994-95 to 1998-99. Our team just got way better.
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