Vegas Golden Knights expand the game beyond T-Mobile Arena | Sports in Las Vegas

LAS VEGAS (FOX5) — Since their inception, the Vegas Golden Knights have been one of the NHL’s premier franchises, holding the third-most regular season wins with 202 and ranking in the top five in attendance. every year.

However, as dominant as the gold guys were inside the Fortress walls, they were equally impressive growing the game outside.

“This excitement from T-Mobile [Arena] door here, door to Henderson. I think the excitement that people feel, that vibe and that passion for Golden Knights games, it’s electric, and they want to be involved,” Sheri Hudspeth said. “If you have kids, you take them to the game, you can bring them here and have that same experience through youth hockey.”

Hudspeth is a former Division 1 women’s hockey player with over 30 years of coaching experience under her skates. She was hired by the team last spring and leads the Vegas Jr. Golden Knights women’s program, something that didn’t exist three years ago.

“It’s refreshing not to be put in a box and it’s a blank canvas and doing things that they want to do,” Hudspeth said. “The way I know how to do it as a woman and a woman, I know what those little girls need because I was that little girl.”

“My girls started out in hockey,” said Melinda Aiken, a mother of two in the Golden Knights women’s program. “They played with boys, they decided they wanted to figure skate, so they were both figure skaters, and then they came back to hockey two years ago when they started the girls’ program here. So it was really important for them to play for girls’ teams, and it created a stronger bond for the team, I think being an all-girls team So not only seeing hockey grow in Vegas , but women’s hockey was really important to my kids.

When you talk about growing the game on and off the ice, the proof is in the pudding for the Golden Knights. FOX5 compared the state of Nevada to the state of Arizona, two hot markets with NHL teams.

The Coyotes arrived on the scene in 1996, and ten years after their first game in the desert, they had just over 7,700 registered hockey players. Since then, Arizona has seen a roughly 4% decline in player participation.

Comparing that to Silver State, prior to the Golden Knights’ inaugural season, there were just under 1,400 hockey players. Fast forward to the end of 2021, and Nevada has over 3,700 enrollees, which equates to 171% growth. When you break down the numbers even further, over the same period, the U8 player category jumped 668% while the girls and women group grew by 327%.

“They’re off the charts,” said Daren Elliot, senior vice president of hockey programming and facilities operations at VGK. “Post-pandemic, the only region in the country that saw eight-and-under growth in hockey was Nevada.”

“If you’re just an entertainment option on the menu, you can be successful when you’re successful on the ice. If you don’t have the infrastructure, the basic element, the commitment to the facilities and the infrastructure, that’s a lot harder to do. I was part of the Atlanta Thrashers organization. I’ve seen what can happen and what needs to happen, and if it doesn’t happen, what can be the result and it’s usually not very successful.

“There are places in Florida, like the Panthers that are having a great season, but guess what they didn’t make the commitment in the 90s to youth hockey, a commitment to win, so you have a fanbase that has holes and gaps. Here they do it the right way.

The Golden Knights have proven that when you do it the right way, results will follow, and that’s not just for NHL guys, but aspiring pros too. Hudspeth helped his team win two U12 championships, one in Texas and the other in Anaheim.

“What I’m also most proud of is being competitive against organizations that have been around for 25 years,” Hudspeth said. “We’re going to play these girls’ organizations, they’ve got millions of kids in California, we’re beating them. We go out there and people see us on the street and they’re surprised. If they don’t take us seriously, we went home with the banner and the trophy, very proud of things like that, we’ve built a positive culture and I think that’s come a long way.

The Golden Knights have rewritten the record books a lot in their short history, but perhaps the proudest moment for the state came on February 22, 2020, when Gage Quinney became the first Nevada-born player in the NHL.

“It just brings excitement, the sport you’ve been playing since you were younger, and everyone would look at you with three heads when you tell them what you’re playing. Now everyone loves hockey here,” Quinney said. “We’re the fastest growing state for hockey. I think it hits home because I was that kid, younger, I was telling everybody to play hockey and they were looking at me. like I was crazy. Now I feel like if you don’t do it the way the hockey people look at you, you’re crazy. It’s just awesome to see.

“I sincerely believe that in the future this will be a hotbed of hockey for kids to develop and eventually go to college, to pros and succeed from here,” said the forward. Golden Knights Max Pacioretty. “Obviously there’s a couple, Gage Quinney being one and I kind of lean on his dad for advice on that. He’s been there, and he said it’s going to take a lot time and travel, but he had fun doing it with his son Gage and he’s a great player and a big boy and it’s no surprise he pulled it off.”

Gage’s father, Ken, was a former NHL player who played in Las Vegas for the Thunder from 1993 to 1998.

“I just believed in being a hockey player and it happened,” Quinney said. “I have to thank my parents for keeping me in this direction and here I am, still playing today and hockey is thriving in Vegas.”

While it’s nice to find homegrown talent at the top level, growing the game successfully doesn’t just mean playing professionally.

“You hope what you’re doing is becoming a fan for life, a love of the game, that’s what youth hockey is all about,” Eliot said. “Did you play hockey, did you love it as a kid, watching the Vegas Golden Knights and oh yeah, I was a hockey player too. That’s the importance.”

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