R-E-S-P-E-C-T, that's what Vegas wants from ye

Vegas hockey fans have had enough with outsiders calling out the Golden Knights as a team full of rejects, claiming the club doesn't deserve its inaugural-year success and treating the mere presence of an expansion team among the final four Stanley Cup contenders as something akin to sacrilege.​

Fans of the Golden Knights have had just about enough from pundits and purveyors of bad vibes

Winnipeg Jets goaltender Connor Hellebuyck blocked a shot by Vegas Golden Knights right winger Reilly Smith during the 2nd period of Game 3 of of the Western Conference final series. Vegas directed more shots at Hellebuyck earlier in the game. (The Associated Press/John Locher)

Imagine, if you will, a smaller-market NHL city where the fans feel disrespected by the hockey cognoscenti.

A place where the star players go all but unprofiled by national media more concerned with what's not happening in traditional hockey hotbeds such as Chicago, Montreal and Toronto.

Sounds like Winnipeg, right?

Yes, but it's also Las Vegas, where the local hockey fans have had enough with outsiders calling out the Vegas Golden Knights as a team full of rejects, claiming the club doesn't deserve its inaugural-year success and treating the mere presence of an expansion team among the final four Stanley Cup contenders as something akin to sacrilege.​

"They said, you guys are going to suck. You guys aren't going to win and it's going to take years and years until you'll be in the playoffs," Vegas fan Brittany Kosmala said outside T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas after the Golden Knights dispatched the Winnipeg Jets 4-2 in Game 3 of the Western Conference final series, which Vegas now leads two games to one.

"Then it turned into, you guys got this team handed to you.  You didn't deserve to win that because the NHL handed you this team," Kosmala said. "It's a rollercoaster of bull***t, as far as I'm concerned."

Geographically and culturally, Winnipeg and Las Vegas could not be less alike.

The modest Manitoba capital is all but unknown to the vast majority of North Americans, extremely cold during the winter and blessed with the sort of deeply entrenched sense of community only found in slow-growing cities of the U.S. Great Plains and Canadian prairies.

Vegas is anything but modest and happens to be one of the planet's premiere tourism attractions. It's also hellishly hot during the summer and is still struggling to define itself as a community, thanks to bursts of rapid growth and a relatively transient population.

Outrage when team isn't given its due

But the similarities between the hockey fandom in both cities is striking, especially in terms of the level of outrage — much of it logical and legitimate — that emerges when either the Jets or Knights are ignored, derided or otherwise not given their due.

Vegas fans, like Winnipeg loyalists, get really ticked off at the lack of notoriety or publicity surrounding the players who are not William Karlsson, Jonathan Marchessault and Marc-Andre Fleury.

Vegas fan Amanda Milner says the roster continues to be dismissed simply because it was assembled in an expansion draft.

"These are all guys who are experienced. They know what they're doing. It's not just pure luck that you happen to pick good guys," Milner said after the game.

"They actually have to gel together, mesh together [and] figure out how to play together," she said. "Right now, they're just proving their worth."

Golden Knights centre Jonathan Marchessault's empty-net goal late in Game 3 of the Western Conference final series sealed a 4-2 win for Vegas over Winnipeg. (The Associated Press/David Becker)

Willie Ramirez, who covers the Golden Knights for the Associated Press, credits Vegas coach Gerard Gallant for optimizing the use of these players.

"They've come together under the leadership of Gerard Gallant and he has created the perfect lines, from one to four. They've become known for his being able to roll four lines or three pairs of defencemen and they work so well together," Ramirez said.

The key to Vegas' success is to play the style game every game, Ramirez said.

"They can not adjust to the team they're playing. They can not prepare for the team they're playing. They can watch game film and be aware of who's on the ice and Fleury be aware," he said, but "the second they have gotten off track and sort of play to their opponent is where they've run into trouble."

That too will sound familiar to Winnipeg Jets fans who watch every game-day scrum with coach Paul Maurice or any of his players. Both clubs try to take a squad approach, even if Winnipeg has more star power in the likes of Patrik Laine and Dustin Byfuglien.

Jets fans are justified in pointing out they've waited far longer for their club to be a threat and have endured many more setbacks and humiliations. 

Compared to Las Vegas, so has every fanbase in the league. The Golden Knights exist, game-day skits and all. 

Wishing they did not exist, as some Jets fans surely do at this point, is just as silly as medieval fantasy.


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