Los Angeles 2 Las Vegas Golden Knights 3 (19th September 2019)
What did you do for your birthday? Night out in town? A meal with the family? Me? I went to Los Angeles. OK, it wasn’t actually for my birthday, but I found myself in the city on my birthday, with the bonus of my first NHL game thrown in. OK, it was a pre-season game, but a game at the 21,000 capacity Staples Center is a bit different to going to watch a Reading XI at Boreham Wood on a Tuesday night.
Located in Los Angeles’ city centre, a 50 minute journey from my hotel in Santa Monica along the cheap but slow LA Metro, I was starting to get to know the bland urban sprawl that seems to make up much of Los Angeles.
With it taking a little longer to get into the centre than planned, I had no chance to do much on arrival, so it was straight in, braving the eye-watering prices that would no doubt exist at the concession stands inside the arena. A hot-dog and beer cost nearly $20, although it was apparently an extra large beer (domestic). I’d normally be glad of an extra-large beer, but only when it was poured did I discover that was Bud-Light. Even the most ardent US-hater would admit the nation has invented and produced many many great things. Sadly, Bud-Light isn’t one of them. It was terrible. The hot-dog was tiny too.
Definitely not tiny was the Staples Center arena itself. The biggest ice hockey “arena” I’d been to previously was at Bracknell (capacity 3000). This held a mere 18,000 more, and it’s a bit like comparing Walsall and Barcelona. A large split lower tier was topped by a three tier ring of executive boxes, and atop those was another tier, and that’s where my seat was. The view, even from up there, was surprisingly good, as the home DJs controlled the laser and light show to build up the atmosphere as the start approached.
One thing the dimmed lights couldn’t hide was the low crowd. LA sports fans are known for being notoriously fickle, and the majority of the seats were empty. Perhaps at best the place was a third full, but it was still just about enough to give it the feel of an occasion.
The visitors from Las Vegas, true to the occasion, took to the ice with a “pre-season” mentality, and barely looked interested for most of the game. The Kings were well on top, but struggled to do much with their advantage. Both teams managed to hit the goal frame in the first period, but neither looked confident trying to score. Their play was probably best summed up by a total swing-and-miss air-shot, when scoring looked easier.
A similar theme maintained in the 2nd period too, and just as I was contemplating my first ever ice-hockey 0-0, a Vegas penalty set up a 5-on-4 powerplay for the remainder of the period. This gave the Kings the chink in the armour they needed. Careful work allowed the puck to be pulled back and fired in. It was saved, but the rebound was hit back hard and low under the keeper to put the hosts 1-0 up with 45 seconds remaining in the period.
It set up a happier 2nd period break. Among the usual scoreboard entertainment, such as picking out local celebrities (the lead guitarist of Bad Religion might be lost on some) in attendance, they also featured a Pictionary style between two players, where one had to guess what the other was drawing. A picture of a small bird had the other player guessing “turkey, goose, duck, pigeon, eagle…” Giving up, he was told it was a chicken.
“A chicken?” he replied. “A chicken isn’t a bird”.
“…err… it’s got wings.”
“That doesn’t make it a bird” he said, laughing to himself, sadly not revealing what kind of animal he thought a chicken was. Maybe he thought they lived as nuggets. And people say footballers are thick.
A second home goal looked to have sealed victory, and with just six minutes left, the away players’ ambitions looked to be extending no further than getting a good seat on the four-hour coach ride back home to Vegas. A foray into home territory though saw the puck cut back from right wing. A Kings defender stuck his stick out to cut it out, and surprised everyone by just deflecting it past his keeper into his own net.
It got worse for the home team just a minute later. A break for the Golden Knights saw an away player evade one challenge and poke the puck forward. A player skated past the wrong-footed defenders, controlled the puck, took it round the keeper, and slid the puck in to make it 2-2.
It got even worse, with another break early in overtime saw an Vegas attacker put away. His shot was fired high into the roof of the net. It bounced down rapidly and rolled along the goal, but the red flashing light indicated a goal, and the home side had indeed lost a game they hadn’t looked like doing until right at the end. Maybe those fickle stay-away LA fans had the right idea after all.