LAS VEGAS (Reuters) – The Vegas Golden Knights have attracted a passionate fan base surpassing expectations in their first season, but supporters say the team has managed to unite a tragedy-ridden community city.
Elvis impersonator and Golden Knights fan Jeff Stanulis poses in front of a home game at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada, USA, May 1
6, 2018. Photo taken May 16, 2018. REUTERS / Rory Carroll  The city was tested like no other on Oct. 1, when a gunman opened fire on concertgoers on the Las Vegas Strip, killing 58 people and injuring 851 in the worst mass shootings in US history.
Days later, the Golden Knights played their first home game just a few blocks from the tragedy, and the community quickly gathered their first NHL franchise under the banner "Vegas Strong."
"We were nine days away from our house opener and planning how we would unveil this franchise when the tragedy happened," said Brian Killingsworth, the team's chief marketing officer, to Reuters on Wednesday.
"We asked the players if they wanted to join the community and become a man everyone wanted to visit with police, fire brigades, first aiders and hospitals.
" We had the responsibility to respond and do what Sport does, bringing people together and healing them. "
The outpourings of support were in sharp contrast to the city's reputation as a" Sin City "party town with lots of flash but little substance.
" There is much more in this city than just the strip. It's a community of hardworking people who are really interested and passionate, "he said.
" The Golden Knights helped give this city a soul. "
The 4-2 victory over the visiting ones Winnipeg Jets at the Western Conference Finals on Wednesday gave the home team a 2-1 lead over favorites from seven series, with Game Four playing in Las Vegas on Friday.
The team took their time honoring and honoring heroes on Wednesday
Which does not mean that a Golden Knights home game is a grim affair.
The fans entering the T-Mobile Arena are among the loudest and most vociferous most colorful in sports, and since it's still Vegas, the party starts long before the puck falls and continues on the streets after the arena clears out.
Season ticket holder and Golden Knights hockey fan Stephanie Huntsman sports one Wonder Woman Costume and posing with fans before a home game at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada, USA, May 16, 2018. Photo taken May 16, 2018. REUTERS / Rory Carroll
"People laughed as that Team came together. They said nobody would come to the Games because it's a passing city with no attention span, "said Elvis impersonator and stubborn Golden Knights fan Jeff Stanulis.
" Right after the tragedy of October 1 was the whole Town in a funk and needed something great to free it from. "
And lift them as the Golden Knights ran away with the Pacific Division before sending off the Los Angeles Kings and San Jose Sharks in the first two rounds of the Playoffs to claim only two wins from the Stanley Cup Finals.
Disguised as Wonder Woman, season ticket holder Stephanie Huntsman said the surfacing of the team had finally made her feel at home in the city she moved into three years ago
"It was amazing to see this city come together around the team and have something created by Vegas that we deserve," she said.
The loyalty of the fans has led to massive jersey and ticket sales, with the Golden Knights selling more merchandise in May than the other three remaining NHL playoff teams.
The team's reach extends far beyond the Nevada desert. Fans from 90 different countries, including the Philippines, Latvia, England and Australia, have purchased goods.
"We have become a worldwide phenomenon," said Killingsworth.
To get an idea of how passionate the fans are, look no further than the people lining up to receive Golden Knights Tattoos – permanent tattoos – outside the arena.
"I think we probably got over 350 people permanent Golden Knights tattoos because we offer them every playoff game for free, and the line is always 50 to 60 people deep."
"They dye their fandom permanently on their bodies, which is fantastic," he said.
"I've never seen a market behind such a team."
Reporting by Rory Carroll; Arrangement of Ian Ransom