Leafs impressed by scene as Las Vegas begins NHL play
Tuesday was a watershed evening for pro hockey in the Southwestern U.S., with the home debut of the Vegas Golden Knights. Arizona-raised Auston Matthews watched the Knights play his childhood team, the Coyotes.
“The building looked like it was absolutely rocking,” Matthews said of highlights from the T-Mobile Arena. “I’d definitely love to see that.”
It was also a night for that region to continue the process of emotional healing after America’s worst mass shooting, a lone gunman killing 58 and leaving nearly 500 wounded on The Strip. As the Knights were introduced, they were paired with a first responder or law enforcement official and both teams lined up behind the guests for the anthem.
“It looked awesome,” Matthews said. “With the tragic incident, you see all the support from the teams they’ve played so far and the city and the building. It doesn’t matter where that kind of stuff happens, you hear about it and it’s pretty sad and very unfortunate. I think the players have been very strong about it and have done some very great things for the city.”
Coach Mike Babcock said the thoughtful game presentation showed Vegas “will be a great partner in the NHL.”
“It was spectacular,” Babcock said of the pre-game salute. “You can never give enough thanks to the first responders.”
One door closes ...
Though Babcock said the late-night Vegas game was “past my bedtime,” he noted former Leaf Brendan Leipsic had an assist in the 5-2 win and two points in three games.
“I saw him in the first game they played,” Babcock said of the high-scoring Marlie that Toronto didn’t protect in the expansion draft. “He was trusted and he was on the ice a lot. We knew Leiper was a good player here, we liked his tenacity, we just didn’t have a spot for him. In the end you have to make some decisions, but you’re always happy when guys can go elsewhere and they can play in the NHL.”