The NHL Is Coming To Utah

Vegas Knights Hockey

Our Road Trip To Las Vegas To See The Golden Knights
Play The Toronto Maple Leafs

My Experience As An NHL Fan

So if you’ve been out of touch or just plain don’t care, the NHL is coming to Utah.  For a life-time NHL fan like me, it’s an amazing step for Salt Lake City. 

Growing up in Canada, I first attempted to lace up a pair skates when I was 6.  Man, was that an adventure.  I loved playing hockey and did so for the next 7 years or so. 

As I kept growing, someone convinced me to switch over to football.  So, as I fell in love with the Canadian Football League ... the CFL ... I made the switch later but always regretted it.  On a positive note, that’s what got me to Utah.

I experienced the NHL invading my city once before.  When I was living in Calgary, Alberta with my dad for a year or so after college ... recovering from a back injury sustained while playing football for the University of Utah Utes ... the Atlanta Flames moved to Calgary.

My dad actually lived less than 200 yards from the old “Corral” where they were forced to play while a new arena was being built.  This is just adjacent to the site where the now-timeworn “Saddledome” sits.

My wife and fans at Golden Knights Game

I’ve been a Calgary Flames fan ever since.  And like so many Canadian hockey fans near my age, I’ve also been a Toronto Maple Leaf fan since I was a kid.  I know.  Long-suffering doesn’t even begin to describe it.   At least the Flames have won a couple Cups since they’ve been in Calgary. 

The Maple Leafs haven’t won a Stanley Cup since 1967!  Even so, they still have won the second most Cups all-time.  Just not for a long, long time.  Nonetheless, wherever the Leafs go, especially in Canada, they have a huge following.  When the Leafs visit Calgary, it often feels like the fan split is 50-50.

T-Mobile Hockey Game

The Unmatched Excitement of a Live NHL Game

If you’ve never been to an NHL game, it’s hard to describe the excitement and speed of the game.  TV just can’t do it justice.  It is so much better seeing a game live than on TV.  In my opinion, even more so than other sports.

So a few months ago, in February of this year, my wife and I ponied up the cash to travel to Las Vegas and watch the Maple Leafs play the Stanley-Cup Champion Vegas Knights.  The tickets weren’t cheap.  It cost me more than $500 for two tickets in the lower bowl.

Vegas Knights Pregame

An Eventful Road Trip and Game Day in Vegas

We made it part of a longer road trip which took us to Lake Havasu in Arizona a couple hours south of Vegas.  I’ll tell you about that experience in another post.

As we rolled back into Las Vegas from Lake Havasu, after coming through on the way down, I realized that we hadn’t been to an NHL game in … well, a long time.  Actually since just after my wife and I got married.  We attended an LA Kings - Calgary Flames game in the old LA Forum in the early 1980’s.

We were in Vegas to see hockey not to make a “what goes on in Vegas” memory.  We had booked a cheesy hotel just off Tropicana across from the MGM Grand.  With the game being played at T-Mobile Arena, we weren’t far from the arena.  We could’ve walked to the arena but after pondering the walk back after the game, in the dark, along sketchy Tropicana, we quickly abandoned that idea.

T-Mobile Arena Hockey Puck

We parked in the MGM Grand parking lot for a relatively reasonable fee and then wound our way through the MGM to get to The Strip.  We felt a lot safer going that route amongst the Vegas visitors and hockey fans going to the game.  Leaving the MGM, we made our way across the walkway to New York New York.

We were already noticing Leafs’ jerseys everywhere and as we approached T-Mobile Arena, it became apparent that the Leafs fans had traveled in huge numbers.  The large percentage of fans waiting to get in as soon as the doors opened wore Leafs’ jerseys. Canadians like to travel.  They love their sports teams.  Combine that with Las Vegas and look out.

Auston Matthews

A Game to Remember: Leafs vs. Knights

One again, our motivation was deep-seated.  It was grounded in my life-long fondness for the Toronto Maple Leafs, an icon amongst the NHL's Original Six.  I will challenge anyone who says the classic uniforms of the Original Six don’t leave all the other teams in the league in the dust trying to catch up.  And I mean all of the Original Six.  The definition of “classic.”

So, here’s a question.  When does the exorbitant cost of an event become just too much for the perceived value received or experienced?  NHL tickets, no matter where you buy them, are expensive.  Well, when you’re a hockey “fan” like I am and you get to see the Toronto Maple Leafs play the defending Stanley Cup Champions in Vegas, it’s a no-brainer even if a one-time expense.

Toronto Maple Leafs at Vegas

And we bought what I would say are “premium seats.”  Lower bowl.  Not quite in a corner but more towards a side-corner?  Come to find out, we happened to be seated in a section where friends and families of the Vegas Knights’ team often sit.  That ended up being a cool experience for us as I’ll explain later.

Now I will say, Las Vegas does NHL hockey up right.  T-Mobile Arena is a nice venue although I’ve got to admit, I wasn’t overly impressed by it.  After being in the renovated Delta Center … where the Jazz play and the new NHL team will be playing … the concourse areas at T-Mobile were dark and kind of dingy.  The food choices were absolutely minimal and the ratio of liquor sales outlets to food was … well about 20 - 1.  That wouldn’t cut it in Utah.

Leafs Golden Knights

Despite our not being impressed with the concourse, T-Mobile Arena does indeed epitomize what an NHL game is really like.  The actual arena showcases the sport in a spectacular way.  The show on the ice and in the stands before and during the game left no doubt about what city we were in.  It was Las-Vegas style all the way.

The Vegas environment was remarkably reflected in the LOUD, raucous pre-game and in-game entertainment.  Fireworks, a light show and a medieval-themed performance by skating fake Knights got the crowd amped up encapsulating all that Vegas style is about. 

There were even Las Vegas “showgirls” gyrating in the stands before the game.  Kind of funny.  They were especially active in the end where the Leafs were warming up.    

Vegas Golden Knights Player

Witnessing an ocean of blue and white jerseys sprinkled across the arena, in the concourse and walking up to the arena gave me a lot of warm and fuzzy feelings.  Toronto’s signature maple leaf adorned thousands making them easily recognizable amidst the sea of gold and black adorning the Knights.

The game was fast-paced, exciting and action-packed.  At times, it was breathtaking.  The Leafs fans seemed to take over the arena as their heroes jumped on the Knights and never gave them a chance. The Leafs ended up winning the game 7 – 2.

Watching such Maple Leafs as Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner and William Nylander along with Knights such as Jonathan Marchessault, Jack Eichel and Alex Pietrangelo in live action was much better than it ever looked on TV.  The speed of the game in real life is crazy.

Maple Leafs Golden Knights

We had Leafs’ fans right beside us … a nice young couple from Toronto.  Then, again, most people we meet are young to us.  Also meeting the parents of Golden Knights’ player Paul Cotter … they sat immediately in front of us … was a pleasant experience.

They showed us photos of their family drinking beer out of the Stanley Cup after winning it the year before.  Every player gets to the Cup home for at least a day.  It is a tradition started in 1995 with the New Jersey Devils.  They were nice people and we had a constant good-natured banter going on during the game.

As competitive as the game was, opposing fans were friendly, courteous and social.  There was some good-natured ribbing but nothing nasty.  I was impressed with how well both fan bases interacted with each other as I’ve seen … and experienced … some crazy things at college and pro football games.

Vegas Golden Knight Crowd

Reflecting on the Cost and Value of the Experience

Even after the game, as we walked back through the New York-New York Hotel & Casino, Knights’ fans and casino patrons in general were just as friendly and congratulatory as Leafs’ fans were.

Reflecting back on our escapade, we believe that the expense of this experience was worth every penny.  In my opinion, the high ticket prices were justified by finally seeing my childhood favorite team play live for the first time ever.  And by the whole NHL game experience itself.  These were two of the league’s best teams with legitimate superstars playing for them.

Nonetheless, seeing more than a couple games a year or even thinking of spending a bundle on season tickets is not even a thought.  The cost is just too ridiculous.  I will be spending some money on a couple games a year in Salt Lake City … to see the Leafs and Flames, my two favorite teams … but that’s probably it. 

T-Mobile Concourse

If you’ve got the money, want to attend 40+ games a year and buy season tickets, go for it.  Once again, our road trip to an NHL game in Las Vegas was a fun and memorable experience.  Balancing the cost, the entertainment value, and pure adrenaline of the game, we concluded that it is an absolute must-try … at least once or twice a season … for any sports enthusiast.

I think that Utah, known for its support of their favorite sports teams, is going to embrace the flamboyance of NHL hockey.  I anticipate that the thrills we experienced will be repeated in the Delta Center.

Leafs Knights Post-Game

The Growing Appeal of Hockey in the U.S.

An interesting note.  Today I read that Game 7 of this year’s Stanley Cup Playoffs played this past Monday drew more viewers than any NBA or MLB playoff game in the last five years.  It was the second most-watched hockey game ever.  Hockey is definitely growing and gaining popularity in the US.  I have my opinions as to why but it’s probably better that I not voice it in this forum.

If you’re a sports fan and especially a hockey fan, based on our experience, I highly recommend attending one or more NHL games when they start playing at the Delta Center.  That is, if you can afford to.  One game = $660 + for two tickets, a couple drinks and parking.

Now, if only the cost of going to see my Raiders play a game in Vegas wasn’t even more ridiculous.  Another story.

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