LAS VEGAS -- Flower was by far the most popular one among the Vegas Golden Knights fans assembled at the practice facility. They crowded around, hoping to get a picture or to simply watch Flower in action. Or, if they were really lucky, to have Flower lean over and give them a lick on the cheek.
No, not "Flower," as Knights goalie Marc-Andre Fleury is known.
We're of course talking about Flower, the goalie's Pomeranian namesake, one of 164 dogs looking for a home that might be as famous in Las Vegas as the Knights are these days.
On Nov. 30, animal control and Metro police discovered a U-Haul box truck in Sandy Valley, located roughly 50 miles from Las Vegas. It had been abandoned by a woman from San Bernardino, California, whom police called a possible "backyard" dog breeder. When the officials opened the truck, they discovered 164 Pomeranians inside, crammed five to a cage. There was no food. There was no water. There was no ventilation.
The dogs were rescued by the Animal Foundation in Las Vegas, a nonprofit shelter founded in 1978 that saves nearly 21,000 lost and homeless animals annually.
The rescued dogs became a media sensation, both locally and nationally, as videos of them went viral. That's why hundreds of hockey and puppy fans arrived at 11 a.m. local time on Monday for a chance to adopt one of 15 Pomeranians that were on site and/or sign up to adopt one of the other dogs housed at the shelter. That's also why Flower the Goalie and Flower the Pomeranian had a powwow before practice.
"I met Flower a little bit. Took some pictures," said Fleury. "She was in my glove. She didn't say that much. Nice little dog. Didn't bark."
After they were rescued, the shelter gave the dogs medical attention, behavioral evaluations and spaying and neutering surgeries. The dogs were groomed, and after a few weeks, there were 164 Pomeranians ready for adoption.
Which is when the Vegas Golden Knights went to the dogs.
"The team reached out to us, as they heard the story. The plight of these dogs captured their attention," said Daniel Neel, chief finance and development officer of The Animal Foundation. "They've been fantastic to work with. Any time the animals come to us, our staff has to name the animals. But when it came to this event, we're like, 'Hey, why don't you guys name these 15?' So the players and the Knights gave them hockey names."
Hence the lineup of tiny Pomeranians with hockey-centric names, including Deke, Biscuit, O.T. and Celly, as well as Golden Knights-centric names such as the aforementioned Flower and Wild Bill after owner Bill Foley.
Every fan in attendance was entered in a raffle for the chance to adopt one of 15 dogs at the practice rink. For additional fees -- from $20 for one ticket to $100 for 10 more, with proceeds benefitting The Animal Foundation -- fans could increase their odds.
After practice, the raffle was held, and names were picked out of hockey helmets. Five Knights players skated onto the ice holding Pomeranians.
OK, they were doing more than holding the dogs. They grasped them as tightly as possible to avoid a scene in which a professional hockey player was skating around the rink trying to catch a toy-sized dog.
"They're so little!" said forward Jonathan Marchessault, who was on the ice with one. "You don't want to lose them, and you're on skates. You don't want to fall, or you'll look stupid."
Several Knights players either own dogs or grew up with them, so the chance to help this cause was near and dear to them.
"It's something we think enough about: dogs that don't have a home," said Marchessault, who has a standard poodle named George. "It's a great thing to do, especially before Christmas. It can bring a lot of joy to a family."
It also helps strengthen the bond between the Knights and their community in Summerlin, where the practice rink is located and the majority of the players live.
"I live two miles from here. I've never been to the practice facility. I think it's a great way to get people here that haven't been to a game yet," said Cheri Hauer, who had 11 tickets in the dog auction in the hopes of winning Flower.
Alas, Flower found a different home. But that the pup now has a forever home was all anyone cared about at this "Pucks For Paws" event.