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‘Cuda Country, what’s going on? It’s been a couple of weeks since the Barracuda were eliminated from the playoffs, so we’ve all had some time to decompress and recharge a bit.
With the craziness of the postseason last month, the blog fell by the wayside but now that everyone is in full offseason mode, we’ll rev this thing back up.
Last Sunday, I received a text from an old boss asking if I wanted to go to game three of the Western Conference Finals in Las Vegas. It was an easy sell. The tickets and hotel were already paid for, all I needed to do was buy a flight. And it was a chance to see a friend I hadn’t seen since I joined the Barracuda a couple of years ago.
Long story short, I used some Southwest points, booked a flight for Tuesday night and arrived in Vegas around 6 p.m.
We stayed at New York-New York, which stands no more than 50 yards from T-Mobile Arena where the Knights play.
I was one-year-old when the Sharks began back in 1991 but I couldn’t help but reflect on that era after witnessing the hockey fever in Sin City.
Aside from the Sharks and Knights both being expansion teams at one point in time, their starts couldn’t be more different. And to be fair, no one in the history of the NHL has had the start the Knights have had. San Jose began play in the old Cow Palace as they waited for the Shark Tank to be built and they didn’t make the playoffs until the ’93-’94 campaign, the third year of their existence. Shoot, San Jose didn’t make the Western Conference Finals until year 13.
Before 2018, Vegas’ opponent the Winnipeg Jets, had never made it to a conference finals in their history that dates back to 1979. Of course, the current Jets began play in 2011 after 15 seasons without a team in Winnipeg. So when I say the Sharks took 13 years to get to a conference final, that’s pretty darn good, until these Knights came along (sarcastic voice).
I think everyone in the hockey community is still shocked how quickly Vegas has climbed the ladder of elite in the NHL and the loss to Golden Knights in the divisional final is still a little raw for most Sharks fans, myself included, so I won’t talk too much about them, but I do want to talk about the growth of the game in untraditional markets and the impact of having an NHL team in your area.
My parents are originally from the Midwest, so they grew up around hockey, but by no means did they think their kids would play the game, especially after they moved to California in the early 80’s. But the Sharks sparked the hockey interest of my older siblings and hundreds of other kids in the Bay Area. That love for the game trickled down to both my twin brother and I. 25-plus years later, California is loaded with talented players who are being drafted to NHL organizations every summer. Just in 2017, the Sharks selected a pair of Californians in the NHL draft in Jacob McGrew and Sasha Chmelevski. 20 years ago, that would have been a pipedream. Even adult hockey has caught fire. Solar4America Ice in San Jose has the largest adult hockey program in the country.
If the old Winnipeg Jets hadn’t moved to Phoenix in 1996, I think we could all agree that there probably wouldn’t be any Auston Matthews. That’s the type of impact a team can have on the community and the sport as a whole.
My earliest Vegas experiences as a kid came at hockey tournaments, so I don’t want to act like hockey is completely foreign to the area, but just hearing folks talk during the game, it’s still a bit of a novelty for most at this point.
What I’m getting at is there are little kids in Southern Nevada that may have never known what hockey was before the Knights arrived and now they’re hooked, and they’ll be hooked for life. Much like I was as a little kid and still am today. And to me, that’s pretty darn cool.
It won’t surprise me in 20 years when kids from Vegas are getting drafted into the NHL, and that’ll be largely credited to the NHL moving a franchise there.
All right, that’s it for me. A reminder during the summer, I’ll be penning a new blog every Thursday on SJBarracuda.com that will cover a wide range of topics including all my offseason activities, development camp, new player features and more.