Steve Stephens More Content Now
LAS VEGAS — Building an ice rink in the desert seems a mite outlandish.
But this is Vegas, baby, where the outlandish can lurk around every corner.
So why not add NHL hockey to Sin City’s glitzy shows, clubs, gambling, world-class hotels and restaurants, and “what happens here stays here” attitude?
The decision seems to be working: In their inaugural season, the Vegas Golden Knights are doing well on the ice and attracting throngs of area supporters and visiting fans to the new T-Mobile Arena.
“Whoever thought of putting a hockey team in Vegas is a genius,” said Mario Rehbein of Etowah, North Carolina. He was meeting relatives in Las Vegas for a 60th birthday celebration for his sister-in-law.
Rehbein is a Carolina Hurricanes fan, and, as luck would have it, his team was playing in Las Vegas during his recent visit.
“We saw the Hurricanes were in town and we thought, ‘Perfect!’ “ he said. “And how can you beat this atmosphere?”
Rehbein has a point.
The arena features loud music, mini-skirted ice-grooming crews and glitzy scoreboard videos — pretty much the standard NHL experience. (No civil-war cannons are fired after goals, though.) And the arena food and drink choices are fine, but nothing especially noteworthy.
But few NHL cities can match the pre- and post-game revelry outside the arena that fans can experience in Las Vegas.
T-Mobile Arena is near Las Vegas Boulevard — the Strip — in the shadow of the faux Manhattan skyline of the New York-New York Hotel and Casino. The arena empties out onto the pedestrian malls of Toshiba Plaza and the Park, between New York-New York and Monte Carlo Hotel and Casino.
The Park includes a number of bars and restaurants, many offering hockey-themed specials, entertainment and events before and after the games. And, of course, casino restaurants, shows and gambling action are literally steps from the arena entrance.
Getting around is easy from the arena, situated near the southern end of the Strip. An elevated walkway from New York-New York across Las Vegas Boulevard leads to the MGM Grand Hotel and Casino and the southernmost stop of the Las Vegas Monorail. (Of course, Vegas has a monorail.)
From MGM Station, the monorail continues north along the Strip for about four miles, ending at the SLS Station just south of the Stratosphere. With a total of seven stops, the monorail is a handy way to explore eye-popping and famous Vegas Strip venues such as Caesar’s Palace, Circus Circus, Bellagio, Harrah’s and dozens more.
A 24-hour pass costs $12, making the monorail an economical way to navigate the Strip, although just finding the stations (usually a long walk through a casino from Las Vegas Boulevard) can be a challenge. And the monorail stops several miles short of downtown. (Visitors who prefer not to drive in the crazy-busy Vegas traffic can continue on via city bus, cab or Uber.)
Budget-minded visitors (or those who just want to save funds for the blackjack tables) can also stay at several economy motels on or near Tropicana Avenue across Interstate 15 from the arena. From there, the arena is still just a short walk. A little-used sidewalk runs along the south side of Tropicana Avenue across the interstate and leads to a pedestrian walkway to the arena.
During one of those walks, I met a group of six young adults who had just finished an eight-hour drive from Malad City, Idaho, and scored free parking on the “wrong” side of the freeway near my motel.
The friends had come not for the shows, the slots or the all-you-can-eat buffets, but to see their first professional hockey game.
“We’re just a bunch of broke college students hoping to find some cheap hockey tickets,” said Carson McClain, a student at Utah State University.
“I’m really excited to have an NHL team just an overnight drive away.”
Outside the arena, I met another Hurricanes fan, Jack Mandeville of Durham, North Carolina. Jack had just turned 14 and was going to the game as part of a surprise birthday getaway with his parents, Hank and Pam Mandeville.
Jack was not overly impressed by the city scene. “Vegas is kind of crazy,” he said.
But the hockey?
“I’m a huge ‘Canes fan — so this,” he said, beckoning toward the new arena and the action awaiting inside, “is great!”
Maybe Vegas finally does have something for everyone.
— Steve Stephens can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter @SteveStephens.