I traveled 1,125 miles to watch a hockey game whose outcome didn’t really mean anything to me. The game in question was the Las Vegas Golden Knights versus the New York Islanders. The experience starts before you can even see the stadium. The walkway to the stadium between the New York, New York casino and the Monte Carlo that leads to T-Mobile arena is buzzing with live music, yard games and all the adult beverages one could ever want. Once you get inside the stadium there is an excitement- the fans are loud and boisterous, there is even a miniature parade featuring the mascot, a drum corp and some cheerleaders marching through the concourse. Everything about the presentation was top notch, from the public address team, to the music, to the on-ice crew. The Golden Knights are Las Vegas personified- lights, dancers, costumes, and absolutely everything is overpriced.
The game itself was a scrappy 2-1 Islanders victory, although they were badly outshot 39-25. Jaroslav Halak played a great game and Mathew Barzal had an assist on the winning goal. The Isles would hold off a charging Knights squad to seal the game.
So why would anyone travel so far for this particular game? To some, they were just there for the entertainment, something to do on a random Thursday night in Vegas. To others, it had meaning – a distinct connection to these teams because of the players they carry. This particular game was special because it featured two of the most influential and special players to have ever skated the ice at ShoWare Center: Shea Theodore and Mathew Barzal.
This journey to Las Vegas was as much about watching an NHL game as it was about pride. It was about honoring a pair of players, who the fans in Seattle have watched grow from 15 year old skinny kids to men playing at the apex of their sport in the NHL. Mathew Barzal and Shea Theodore, along with Coach Steve Konowalchuk, were the guys that helped change the culture in the Seattle locker room. While Theodore didn’t win a WHL championship like Barzal did, he was instrumental in helping lead the group that did. For those that were around prior to the arrival of Shea Theodore, they know how much the Thunderbirds had struggled on the ice. Theodore was a beacon of shining light and a signal that perhaps things were about to change. Barzal would carry that flame forward and lead the team to its first ever WHL championship win. We watched these players lead the charge into a new era of Seattle Thunderbirds Hockey and made the franchise relevant again.
I didn’t know until I was there in person, watching the two compete on NHL ice, how much it would mean to me. Seeing hundreds of fans wearing the jersey that we used to only see on the concourse at ShoWare center was unbelievable. There are other Thunderbirds playing in the NHL and I’m not discrediting those guys at all, they were great players too, but Theodore and Barzal were trailblazers in a way the Seattle fan base hasn’t seen before. We might not all have an NHL team to call our own, but the players we have watched grow- across the juniors- are woven into the fabric of the NHL and the city of Seattle. No matter which NHL team they’re playing for, I’ll always see them in Seattle blue and green.