Let’s dispense with the obvious first: This is not your typical ice hockey pregame show.
Watch virtually any team but the Vegas Golden Knights, and you’ll find the performance before the game pretty straightforward. There’s the highlight reel on the Jumbotron above center ice, the overloud pump-up song, the dimmed lights — yada yada yada — then bam, the home team takes the ice as the fans above the rink erupt in ear-splitting cheers. Simple, right?
What happens in Vegas is not simple.
Take a gander at the video above, if you happened to miss Game 1 of the team’s Stanley Cup Final against the Washington Capitals. There was a live-action medieval sword fight, there was a drum corps sporting neon visors straight out of Star Trek, and of course — for reasons somehow both baffling and perfectly apt — there was a giant, firework-spitting helmet.
There was even an introduction from “Let’s get rrrrready to rumble!” himself, legendary boxing emcee Michael Buffer.
“The No. 1 thing that we’re doing is creating home ice advantage,” Jonny Greco, Vegas’ vice president of entertainment production, tells NPR’s Mary Louise Kelly.
He and his colleagues are the ones tasked with finding the right way to represent the Vegas Golden Knights, a brand-new team that, as an expansion franchise, had never even played an NHL game before this season. They’ve been designing pregame shows all season.
Now the team has managed the miraculous and made it to the Stanley Cup Final against the Washington Capitals — and Greco says the tall task remains the same.
“We want to create an atmosphere that give our boys on the ice a little extra oomph, a little extra volume, a little extra cheering from the fans.”
And because they’re in Vegas, naturally they decided to do it with, well, a little extra.
“We threw everything on the wall,” says Greco, who previously had some experience with just that as a live events director for professional wrestling. “Do we want to go traditional — which is great and is no-frills — or do we want to go Vegas? Because we also talked about going uber-Vegas.”
What exactly is “uber-Vegas?” Perhaps it’s just best to list the few things that didn’t make it into the show — but, frankly, were still under discussion:
- An Elvis impersonator as PA announcer
- Showgirls on ice skates
- A live tiger
Even with the slightly understated version they settled on — and admittedly we’re kind of stretching the definition of “understated” here — ice hockey fans elsewhere have reacted with their fair share of ambivalence. As it turns out, fans of a sport famed for its stoic players have occasionally had unkind things to say about the blowout display.
“Cheesy and dumb,” declared one critic. “Tacky,” cried another. A third had this biting verdict: “Thanks for ruining hockey further.” And there are plenty more critics out there. Those notes are all comments on a single tweet from the NHL on Monday
But Greco says he is satisfied his intended audience gets it.
“That’s the beauty of art, right? If everyone did the same show, it would just get kind of numb. It’s important to change. And it’s good to not like things — that’s OK,” he says. “But we had to honor the city.”
Not long ago, nearly everyone dismissed the Golden Knights as little more than a bunch of supporting cast members, little-known extras deemed expendable by their previous teams. Now, they’re introduced with rousing statements over the loudspeakers about how nobody believed in them.
It seems suitable that when they take the ice for Game 2 on Wednesday, the Golden Knights will be the main event of a spectacle fit for Vegas.
“You don’t see that anywhere else, right? It’s unique and special. I think it works. I think it’s good entertainment,” the team’s starting goalie, Marc-Andre Fleury, said Monday. “Once we step on the ice and people in the crowd are excited and into it already — I think it’s awesome.”