Sin City turns into Hockey Town as Vegas prepares for Golden Knights playoffs
Hockey team helped city heal following horrific mass shooting in October
LAS VEGAS — In a city where musicians, magicians and comedians reign supreme, hockey players have become the star attraction on the Strip in Las Vegas.
Sin City is now hockey town.
In the expansion team's opening act, the Vegas Golden Knights have been nothing short of remarkable. A 51-win season and Pacific Division title now pits Vegas against the Los Angeles Kings in the opening round of the NHL playoffs. (Wednesday, 10 p.m. E.T., CBC).
This inaugural season has turned out to be somewhat of a Hollywood script, and fans can't get enough of it.
Everywhere you go along the Strip people are wearing the team's gear. Billboards are lit up with Golden Knights symbols. Bars are decorated in the team's colours.
Playoff tickets for the opening-round series were scooped up by crazed hockey fans in minutes. The T-Mobile Arena, tucked behind the New York-New York hotel and casino, has become an opponent's worst nightmare.
The Golden Knights were 29-10-2 in their friendly confines this season — the arena was at 103 per cent capacity throughout the year.
Now the real fun starts as the playoffs begin in a city that knows how to wow audiences and put on a show. Officials with the team say the party inside and outside the arena will be taken to an entirely different level in the playoffs.
The Bellagio Hotel is known for it's breathtaking light and fountain show. There's also the Chihuly glass ceiling, conservatory and garden that draws in the masses. But now it's the Bellagio Patisserie that's drawing a crowd and taking playoff hockey fever to the extreme.
In the middle of the bakery sits 40 kilograms of chocolate goodness in the shape of Vegas Golden Knights goalie Marc-Andre Fleury.
"I am so proud of it," said Yamilet Hillers, assistant executive pastry chef at the Bellagio. "I had no idea it would be such a big thing though. We thought we were just doing this piece for the Patisserie and that people might enjoy. I guess [the Knights are] so popular and doing so well."
Hillers said it took the pastry team five weeks to come up with a plan to build the chocolate sculpture. They wanted to start simple, something that would be manageable. But as they went on, they felt they couldn't spare any details.
"The design part was very difficult," she said. "We looked at different poses of goalies to get the angles and then we had to calculate things to see if it could support the chocolate."
The most challenging part for Hillers? The mask.
"Originally it was going to be the basic colours and then they wanted more detail," she said. "I worked on it for 18 hours. Kudos to the artist who originally did it. I hope I did him justice."
The chocolate Fleury is not all chocolate. That would have been too heavy. So the team got creative.
"The structure is made of Rice Krispie but it's covered with chocolate. That's my specialty," said assistant pastry chef Jerome Jacob.
"The big challenge was the location of the sculpture. It's up high and we had to carry it. We had to work with light product. If it was all chocolate it would have been too heavy."
In total, the goalie sculpture is about 40 kgs of melted down chocolate and 10 kgs of Rice Krispie.
"The whole thing is edible," Jacob said. "It's one of the harder pieces we've ever done."
More than just a game
For the people of Las Vegas, their first-ever professional sports team has become a badge of honour on and off the ice. Justin Jonsson, his wife Rosario and two young sons Ayden and Nathan, had to stop by the chocolate Fleury on Tuesday and take a picture with it.
They all showed up decked out in Golden Knights gear. Just a couple of hours earlier they were at the team's practice facility watching their hockey heroes prepare for battle against the Kings.
"I've never missed a game. And if I don't go to the arena we're watching on TV," Justin said. "We've taken my oldest son to a few games and then we finally went as a family two weeks ago."
Ayden, 4, is in his first year of hockey. Every Tuesday he practices in the same facility as the Golden Knights. Then the family goes over and watches the team practice.
"It motivates him to see what he could possibly do. It's cool to watch him. Even my youngest sees them on TV and chants during the game," Justin said.
Justin was born and raised in Colorado. Rosario was born and raised in Vegas. She's fallen in love with her home team because of her husband's love for hockey. But it goes beyond the game for her.
"This team and game has brought our family together. We'll be able to do this with the kids for a long time," Rosario said. "It's not just my husband going to the bar to watch the game. We've done date nights with friends but we've also been able to bring the kids."
The horrific mass shooting that killed 58 people in Las Vegas this past October is still very much on the hearts and minds of people months later.
In a lot of ways, the Golden Knights became a galvanizing force in a city that was and is still healing. Their historic home-opening game was just nine days after the shooting. The team took numerous steps to honour the victims in the pre-game ceremony. Then the Golden Knights went on to defeat the Arizona Coyotes 5-2 and sent the crowd into a frenzy.
They haven't looked back.
For Justin Jonsson and many thousands more throughout Vegas, it was the way the team handled themselves during the tragedy that made them bigger fans than they could have ever imagined.
"That whole ceremony they did to honour the victims, that was emotional and eye-opening. That was amazing," Jonsson said. "The team came out into the community in the days that followed, too. They just did it. It set the example. And we've embraced them."
In their final home game of the season, the Golden Knights retired the number 58. They also raised a banner to the rafters that has the names of all 58 victims.
Jonsson, who has been to more than 10 games this season, said the atmosphere in T-Mobile Arena is unlike anything he's experienced.
"It's been ridiculous this season. You can't match it. It's unbelievable."