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How Hockey Took Hold In Las Vegas

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

If your city gets a new sports franchise, it's exciting, sure, but you are doomed to years of failure. Expansion teams just don't do well, at least not immediately. Well, if there's one city that could beat the odds...

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UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Let's tell Vegas and the world that we are ready for this. Go Knights, go. Go Knights, go.

GREENE: The Vegas Golden Knights are the National Hockey League's newest franchise. And as of this morning, they've got the second-best record in the NHL.

W.G. RAMIREZ: They've shattered every expansion team record in every major sport in each league's midway point. They've done the unthinkable.

GREENE: That's sportswriter W.G. Ramirez, who follows the Golden Knights for The Associated Press. He describes how the Knights built their roster by cherry-picking players who other teams deemed dispensable.

RAMIREZ: They're looked at as rejects. We're the spare parts, if you will, OK. So they come together and they bond during training camp. Now you bring a major sports franchise to a town that is now with 2.1 million people. And when I was growing up in this town, there were half a million people. Now you got 2.1 million people of transients from the East Coast - or all over the country - but, you know, that are hockey fans. They all come together to form this team, including Marc-Andre Fleury, who was brought in as the face of the franchise.

GREENE: Well, and Marc-Andre Fleury, I mean, I have been a fan of him for years. He was the goalie for the Pittsburgh Penguins, my team. And he gets replaced by a younger goalie. He feels like a reject but also just does his job and is such a team player for so long. And now to see him somewhere else succeeding, I mean, that story seems to say something about everything you're talking about.

RAMIREZ: Absolutely. And, you know, when I asked him at the beginning of the season - this team has been brought together basically to build for the future. And he says, I don't know what you're talking about, to be honest with you, because the players in this locker room, we're not going out there on the ice just to play and let them beat us up. We're going out there to win.

GREENE: And win is just what they have done. Of course, what makes this story even more compelling is that the Knights began their season in the shadow of one of the most deadly mass shootings in modern American history. Just days after that massacre at the Mandalay Bay Casino, the Knights hosted their first home game. And defenseman Deryk Engelland greeted the sold-out crowd.

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DERYK ENGELLAND: To the families and friends of the victims, know that we'll do everything we can to help you and our city heal.

(APPLAUSE)

ENGELLAND: We are Vegas strong.

(APPLAUSE)

RAMIREZ: They have brought this community together. That week, they went to the hospital to see victims. They went to the police department to visit with the first responders. But they're still, to this day - after home games, they hold meet and greets, certain players. City National Arena is the practice arena. That place alone is standing room only for practices. Afterwards, fans will flood the parking lot. And those players, when they pull out, they pull off to the side so they can sign autographs and take pictures. They 100 percent absolutely believe and know what they mean to this community. And they're the first ones to say how much the community means to them.

GREENE: We're talking about a great sports story in Las Vegas with W.G. Ramirez. He writes about sports in southern Nevada for the Associated Press. Hey, thanks for joining us.

RAMIREZ: All right. Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.