In the midst of tragedy the Vegas Golden Knights are writing a fairytale

By Alasdair Hooper

On October 1 a gunman opened fire from the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay hotel on a group of concertgoers in Las Vegas.

The despicable act left 58 dead and 546 others injured in what was the deadliest mass shooting committed by an individual in the United States.

The outpouring of grief, shock and anger reverberated around the world and hit the city of Las Vegas hard.

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Nine days later, in the aftermath of the mass shooting, the National Hockey League’s brand new team played their inaugural home game.

The pomp and ceremony that was planned at the swanky T-Mobile Arena was all scrapped – there would be no advertisements, there would be no splendor.

Instead it became a symbol of solidarity with #VegasStrong adorning the advertising boards around the ice and a funding campaign to help victims was initiated.

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The Vegas Golden Knights have been performing miracles ever since.

After nine regular season NHL games so far the Nevada franchise has won eight of them.

They sit fourth in the entire league with 16 points and are second in the Pacific Division.

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This is a truly remarkable achievement considering the team has only been in formal existence since March 1 – their start is by far in a way the best an expansion side has ever made.

To put this into perspective for a United Kingdom audience, the Golden Knights are the first new team to enter the NHL since the Minnesota Wild and Columbus Blue Jackets were added in 2000.

With a new expansion team comes an expansion draft – held on June 21 this year – where the Golden Knights are allowed to pick one unprotected player from every other NHL team.

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George McPhee, the Vegas general manager and the man responsible for player recruitment, made his strategy clear.

This team were going to build for the future by acquiring young promising talent or by selecting older, experienced players they could trade in return for draft picks or youth prospects.

The plan was to be a good team in four or five years time, this current level of success probably has management staggered.

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As such, the Golden Knights roster is made up of a collection of middle-to-lower level NHL players but they have still had to face all manner of adversity with their on-ice personnel.

Their key man – goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury who is a three-time Stanley Cup champion – was in stunning early season form but has since picked up a long-term injury.

Their backup goalie Malcolm Subban, who hadn’t had a stellar time at NHL level before joining Vegas, stepped in and performed superbly before he also picked up an injury.

Amazingly in a league where a strong netminder is so important, their third-string stopper Oscar Dansk is currently keeping net – and he’s playing out of his skin.

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But that’s not the only problem. James Neal, one of the most reliable scorers in the team, has cooled off in terms of form and Vadim Shipachyov, one of the key acquisitions in the off-season, has been suspended without pay after going AWOL.

What’s more some of the team’s best individuals – such as defenseman Shea Theodore – have been assigned to play for their minor league affiliate, the Chicago Wolves, instead until some of the less desirable players have been traded to free up roster space.

An already weak team is somehow still performing miracles and pulling together without some of their strongest pieces on the ice.

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Before the season began pundits could see Vegas were in ‘building mode’ and, while they may not have been the worst team in the league on paper, they were very close to that.

With their ragtag bunch of players, who have struggled for consistency overall in their careers, if the team continues as they are they could actually make the playoffs instead.

This may not have been McPhee’s strategy, and there is still a long way to go in the regular season, but for now the Golden Knights are putting a smile back on a community that has been through a lot over the last month.

For a team that became Las Vegas’ first ever major professional sports side they have already completed their first daunting task in astounding fashion.

They are loved.

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