LAS VEGAS, Nevada -- Goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury is curious.
"No wires? He just floats?"
The three-time Stanley Cup champion is already the face of the NHL's expansion Vegas Golden Knights. As he transitions to life in Las Vegas, he has questions for teammate Reilly Smith, who recently attended "Criss Angel Mindfreak Live," the Vegas spectacle in which the master illusionist appears to float through the air.
"They were going around showing there are no wires. But there's a trick to everything," Smith said with a healthy hint of skepticism. "Some of the tricks were too fast. You can't appreciate it."
Welcome to Vegas Golden Knights training camp, where the locker-room chatter inevitably turns to restaurants, golf, nightlife and, yes, magic as players adapt to their new surroundings. In the meantime, Sin City is avidly anticipating a new era in its already-colorful history, which begins Tuesday night when the Golden Knights host the Los Angeles Kings for the new franchise's inaugural preseason home game in T-Mobile Arena. The excitement has been palpable since the team started camp.
"You head to the grocery store, you'll see a bunch of Vegas Golden Knights T-shirts around. People are just talking about it. This is exciting," said Vegas defenseman Nate Schmidt, who could barely contain his ear-to-ear grin. "It's a great time for us to have a team here. You can just feel the buzz when you walk into the rink or walk out of practice."
From the opening day of training camp, fans began filling City National Arena, the brand new practice facility located roughly 15 miles from the Vegas Strip, just to watch the team skate. Demand was so high that fans had to reserve places at practice using an online RSVP system. Mackenzie River, the restaurant inside the facility, has already been packed for preseason road-game viewing parties.
Las Vegas finally has its own major professional team after years of making do with minor league baseball's Las Vegas 51s, the ECHL's Las Vegas Wranglers, the XFL's Las Vegas Outlaws and a procession of semi-pro teams with names ranging from Dustdevils to Posse to Seagulls.
When they officially kick off their inaugural regular season on Oct. 6, the Golden Knights will finally put the city on the sporting map. It's a new sensation for area fans, having a big-league team to call their own. For the players who were invited to training camp, the experience has proven just as surreal -- particularly for Tyler Wong, who catapulted himself into Vegas sports lore when he scored a hat trick in the team's first preseason game, a 9-4 victory over the Vancouver Canucks.
An undrafted free agent from the small town of Cochrane, Alberta (pop. 25,853), who was in training camp on an AHL contract, Wong was already having a unique camp experience before his hat trick made him a local folk hero.
Until he was sent back to the Chicago Wolves on Monday, Wong -- along with several of his fellow camp invitees -- had taken up residence at Red Rock Casino Resort & Spa across the street from City National Arena. For many players who are looking to make the Golden Knights' roster, the daily trip to the rink includes a walk through the property's sprawling casino.
Since the NHL awarded its 31st franchise to Las Vegas, the confluence of city and sport has proven innovative. Crazy Horse III, a popular Las Vegas strip club, has already announced its "Hockey at the Horse" promotion, a season-long series of game-viewing parties at the "award-winning gentlemen's club." A local brewery, Hop Nuts Brewing, has introduced the Golden Knight, a Belgian strong golden ale that is already among its top sellers.
A quick tour around Las Vegas makes it increasingly obvious that the Golden Knights aren't just the latest star attraction in town. This isn't a brooding illusionist or aging pop star unveiling a six-shows-a-week residency. This team is changing the composition of the city.
T-Mobile Arena, the state-of-the-art facility that the Golden Knights call home, looms large at the south end of the iconic Strip. It also directly borders the Park, an outdoor strip of bars and restaurants that is expanding thanks to a $450 million makeover at the nearby Monte Carlo Resort and Casino. It's a major development for an area that was mostly barren before the arena appeared.
"It was dead. There was nothing over there," said Ronald Tomas, the manager of the Double Barrel sports bar outside the Monte Carlo. "It was just a dusty lot. But now we have something going on almost every week."
The Golden Knights aren't just contributing to development around T-Mobile Arena and the Summerlin region, where their practice facility is located. They're also a central part of Las Vegas' downtown rehabilitation through their partnership with the D Hotel, which will offer game packages while hosting viewing parties, team events and an annual fan fest.
"They had the press conference outside, and after everyone went away that's when it hit me," said Jason Adimoolah, director of hotel operations at the D Las Vegas and Golden Gate Hotel Casino. "To see our owner and CEO and to see [Golden Knights owner] Bill Foley down there with a couple of the players and their jackets, it was like, 'Wow, it's happening.'"
While fans and the city prepare for their regular-season home opener on Oct. 10, the players are still working to get the lay of the land. They'll get there, just as soon as they figure out how to accommodate all the friends and family suddenly planning their upcoming Vegas vacation.
"I think my schedule is booked up in the first two weeks. Right now, I'm screening calls because there's a little too much buzz going. Everyone wants to plan a trip to Vegas now and see a couple of Vegas Knights games," Reilly Smith said. "I'm sure it's not just for us players. I'm sure that's just kind of a trending thing because it is the new hot ticket. People go to Vegas and they want to see a show or gamble. But having a professional team here is special."