Standing room only at City National Arena, home of the Vegas Golden Knights’ practice rink. It is noon on a Saturday and the crowds begin arriving hours before the team hits the ice. Kids of all ages bring jerseys, helmets, and memorabilia for players to sign. Golden Knights attire remains the standard uniform for this event. All the times that I have been to practice, I notice the same people, usually in the same seat, waiting for their team. Signs line the glass with words of encouragement and support. You would think this is the Stanley Cup Playoffs, but it is just another day of practice for the Golden Knights.
Pierre-Eduoard Bellemare is the first to take the ice, setting the pucks out and warming up his slap shot. The crowd roars with “yeah!” every time he scores! Deryk Engelland follows shortly behind, starting on the ice with a stretch. As the team trickles out, the fans scream with excitement. Players skate around the ice and, if you are lucky, Ryan Reaves will stop and say Hi! There is one little girl who I have seen a few times at practice who shouts and cheers for Eakin, to the point that the security guard tells her to ease up on the glass! I think she is his biggest fan. The respect the team and the fans have for their goalie, Marc-Andre Fleury, is visible from the farthest seat in the house. He is the glue of the team, everyone’s inspiration. This is quite clear when he skates out on the ice.
Practice continues and players skate a lap, zooming by fans. They meet in the middle for a healthy stretch, before splitting off into their lines for drills. The formality of practice is in the drills and skills of these players, however the jokes, laughs, teasing, and letting loose with their team is more visible here than anywhere else.
Even the coach gets in on the fun. You see him skating around and chatting with players, but the best part is that Coach Gallant has yet to stop smiling! Jonathan Marchessault politely bullies the goalies, getting them into a brawl on the ice. Now that I think of it, he is always trying to start something with someone! Alex Tuch pokes his stick at Fleury. He has the sneaky look like he wants to get his teammates going, but just for the satisfaction of that alone. With a big grin, he takes Malcolm Subban’s stick for a game of catch me if you can.
You see, practice isn’t like watching them play at T-Mobile on game day. There, they have a job to do: fight for that win. At practice, players are true to their character and fans get to know their personality. Whomever your favorite player is, this is your time to cheer them on closer than most are able to do at T-Mobile (plus, it’s free)!
At the end of practice, some players stay behind to continue to work on their skills after others leave the ice. Others sign autographs and take pictures with their biggest littlest fans. Everyone is enjoying themselves. This practice is about the community, connecting players to fans. The support for every player motivates the team, and in my opinion, is their winning streak fuel.
Practice is a time to watch the players love what they do. It is a chance to see them up close and personal. It is our front row seats to the action. Players respond to the roar of the crowd and the crowd soaks up every personal moment with their Knights. If you want to step up your fan-ness or even check it out to see if my words are accurate, the Vegas Golden Knights’ Twitter page updates practice times daily. You can also call guest services at City National Arena and they will update you on times. What are you waiting for?!
**Anne Buckley is a motivated writer capturing candid moments in adventure, life and sports. Follow www.capturecandids.comto learn more.