On the road to see the Golden Knights play in Las Vegas

The fan experience at T-Mobile Arena, the home of the Vegas Golden Knights, is unparalleled. Mark Stachiew

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A Leafs fan, a Habs fan and a Bruins fan walk into a bar in Las Vegas sounds like the setup for a joke, but that’s just the scene on a typical game day for hockey fans who’ve come to Nevada’s capital of fun to catch the hottest ticket in the NHL, the Vegas Golden Knights.

A lot of traditional hockey fans were skeptical when they heard the news that a new franchise would be calling this city in the desert home, but the team’s instant success has convinced a lot of naysayers and a trip to see a game in person will definitely convince you that the Golden Knights are for real.

A group of us, including Leafs, Habs and Bruins fans, were in town to see a Tuesday night game against the Toronto Maple Leafs and had arrived a few days early to enjoy a few of the city’s other attractions before the puck dropped. We knew that this was a hockey town the minute we started talking to the drivers at Presidential Limousine who were chauffeuring us around the city.

One was originally from Denver and told us a story about meeting Milan Hejduk in a bar the night the Colorado Avalanche won the Stanley Cup in 2001 and the other was from Boston and a die-hard Bruins fan, but admits he also roots for the Golden Knights, but can’t bring himself to watch the two teams play each other. Before he dropped us off at our destination, he gave each one of us a Golden Knights golf tee, saying he gives one to every hockey fan he drives so that they’ll remember their visit to Vegas.

Bet on the favourites

You only wish you had a fan cave like the ones at The Book. Handout photo / Caesars Entertainment

One of our stops was to The Book at the LINQ Hotel & Casino on the Vegas Strip, a sports bar like no other. Sports lovers come to experience their incredible Fan Caves which are rentable living rooms that sport a massive 98-inch television (that can be split into four screens so you can watch multiple games at once), along with two 49-inch TVs, an Xbox, VR and more. Food and drink service are top-notch and, of course, it’s the perfect spot to place a bet on the big game.

As The Book is owned by Caesars Entertainment, which also owns Caesar’s Palace – a name synonymous with sports odds – we thought it was the perfect place to learn about how to bet on hockey. We met with John Lukasik, the Director of Race, Sports and Exports at Caesars Entertainment who walked us through the process.

“Because sports betting is coming out of the shadows and becoming more mainstream, we get a lot of people coming up to us and they’re saying, ‘I’ve never done this before. How do I do it,’” said Lukasik.  “We see this as a great opportunity to have a personal interaction with our guests and teach them about it because we’re all passionate about it.”

The odds weren’t looking good for the Leafs the next night, so our Leafs fan didn’t know whether to follow his head or his heart, but the rest of us knew you had to go with your head.

The raiders are coming

Fascinating Raiders memorabilia is on display at the Las Vegas Raiders Preview Center. Mark Stachiew

From my room on the 27th floor of the MGM Park Hotel, I had an amazing view of the home of the Golden Knights, the T-Mobile Arena, that sits directly across the street, but in the distance, I could also see the stadium under construction that will be the new home to the Vegas Raiders once the National Football League’s most nomadic franchise relocates once again.

To find out more about the team, we rode out to the Las Vegas Raiders Preview Centre, which is essentially a storefront in a swanky outdoor mall where people can come to learn about the team and purchase season tickets.

Vince Lombardi trophies are on display from the team’s Super Bowl wins, along with Super Bowl rings and other memorabilia to hype the Raiders’ imminent arrival. You can sit in sample seats, check out a replica of a luxury box and admire a model of the new stadium that will be an architectural marvel once it’s completed, including a retractable grass field that will actually move it outside on rails so that it can grow in the sun.

It remains to be seen how much of the Golden Knights’ thunder will be stolen by the Raiders, but the team will definitely attract an instant following in this sports-mad city.

Gentlemen, start your engines

Dream Racing offers you the opportunity to drive an exotic sports car at speeds you can only imagine. Mark Stachiew

If you feel a need for speed while you’re in Las Vegas, then the Dream Racing Driving Experience will fill the bill. With a $20 million fleet of 68 exotic race cars that include Lamborghinis, Ferraris and Porsches, Dream Racing is an adrenaline rush that is an experience of a lifetime, even if you’re not a gearhead.

I must admit I was a bit worried about driving a 700-horsepower, V12 Lamborghini Aventador around a racetrack at high speed, but as my instructor Anthony Csuzi told me before we set out, “My life is in your hands, so I’ll make sure we’re both okay.”

As we whipped around the track, he calmly talked me through the entire process of shifting gears and how to steer the cherry-red rocket around the curves and straightaways. Five laps passed in the blink of an eye as I hit a top speed of 170 km/h, all of which was recorded in an onboard video that I got to take home as a souvenir.

Steve Jones, who is Dream Racing’s Marketing Director, says that while they attract high-flying celebrities and even visiting NHL hockey players to the track, they do offer a range of driving packages at different price points to make the experience accessible to anyone.

“You’ll never get the chance to drive cars like these anywhere else,” he said.

Up, up in the air

A nighttime helicopter ride above the Las Vegas Strip gives you a better understanding of the city’s vast scale. Mark Stachiew

The bright neon lights and the outrageous architecture of the Las Vegas Strip are a delight to behold as you walk along the street at night, but the scale of this city’s outrageous display of excess is truly appreciated with a nighttime flightseeing tour like the ones flown by Maverick Helicopters.

In a 15-minute flight, we swooped along the Strip, our pilot pointing out landmarks along the way, including the Golden Knights’ arena we’d be visiting the next evening for the big game we had come to watch, the dancing water fountains of the Bellagio Resort & Casino, the High Roller Ferris wheel and the iconic tower of the STRAT Hotel & Casino, the second tallest freestanding observation tower in the Western Hemisphere, only surpassed by Toronto’s CN Tower in height.

While we were waiting for our flight, we learned that during the day, Maverick also flies excursions to the Grand Canyon that not only take you over one of the world’s natural wonders, but lands passengers at the bottom of the canyon to get a view that not many other visitors get to appreciate. Maybe next time.

Feed my belly

The pizza at Eataly’s at the Park MGM is fantastic. Mark Stachiew

Las Vegas is getting a reputation as a food destination. During our stay, we stuffed ourselves at one outstanding restaurant after the other.

The highlight was our dinner at Eataly’s La Pizza e La Pasta in our hotel, the Park MGM. We feasted on an incredible array of Italian food, including perfect pizzas and pastas and a pesto that had to be tried to be believed.

One of our lunches was at the Black Tap at The Venetian Las Vegas which, in typical American style, featured far too much food for one person to actually consumer in one meal. Known for their craft burgers and beer, Black Tap also has a menu of “Crazyshakes” which pack in more calories than you could ever want. My Brooklyn Blackout, an all-chocolate affair, left me with almost no room in my stomach for the rest of the meal, but it was a decadent treat that I’m glad I ordered.

Another one of our memorable meals was at Trustworthy Brewing Company at The Palazzo Las Vegas. Brewing their own signature beers on site, Trustworthy also serves up classic burgers from an inspired menu of elevated pub grub.

Drop the puck

Can’t get tickets to see your home team play? Why not catch a game against the Golden Knights in Vegas? Mark Stachiew

From my hotel room, I could see people gathering in the plaza in front of the T-Mobile Arena to tailgate before that night’s game. I wore my Hockey Night in Canada T-shirt and was accosted by a Toronto visitor in the hotel lobby who wanted to talk about Don Cherry getting sacked. I asked if he was in town for the Leafs game, but he told me he was actually here to see Aerosmith.

The thing about Las Vegas as a hockey town, is that it’s already a destination for Canadians and people from other American hockey cities who come here for shows and other entertainments, which means there’s already a built-in audience of visiting fans who are already in town and willing to to see their favourite team play a road game.

That was definitely the case as we gathered in the plaza. With the music blaring and the beer already flowing, I lost count of the number of Maple Leafs jerseys in the crowd. It wasn’t exactly a sea of blue as there were plenty of Golden Knights jerseys around me, with goaltender Marc-André Fleury’s number 29 being the most popular choice.

Inside, the arena was buzzing in anticipation of puck drop. I watched the Drumbots march through the concourse, led by the Golden Knight and followed by the team’s cheerleaders and their mascot, Chance the Gila Monster, who I high-fived as he walked past.

After the national anthems, the crowd was whipped into a frenzy as the team sounded the air raid siren they crank up before the start of every period. The game lived up to the hype as it was a back-and-forth affair that the Golden Knights ended up winning 4-2 thanks to some incredible goaltending by Fleury, including a ridiculous glove save that preserved the Knights’ lead and will doubtless be on season-ending highlight reels for save-of-the-year.

The Leafs fans went home disappointed after what turned out to be Toronto coach Mike Babcock’s last game, but what struck me was how considerate the home-town fans were to the legion of blue-shirted visitors that surrounded them. Perhaps it’s not surprising considering how much Vegas relies on tourism and there’s a natural instinct to welcome out-of-towners, but it was nice to see the rival fans giving props to each other for playing a good game.

After the game, I went back to the casino and saw a number of Toronto fans in their jerseys playing the slot machines and I could only wonder if one of them would win the big prize before the Maple Leafs do.

– The author was the guest of the Las Vegas Visitors and Convention Authority which did not view or approve this story before publication.

– Mark Stachiew is a Montreal-based freelance writer who shares travel news and tips at www.stachiew.com and curates a collection of cool travel gear at www.jetsetgeneration.com.

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