Vegas Golden Knights and fans celebrate 1st NHL championship with parade and rally

LAS VEGAS (AP) — Thousands of Vegas Golden Knights fans lined the Las Vegas Strip on Saturday for a Stanley Cup victory parade and a rally in front of the team’s home arena to mark the city’s first NHL championship.

For the team that played its first game as an expansion franchise in October 2017 and for tourists in hotel rooms with windows overlooking the parade route in 2023, the event bore echoes of the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history five years ago. Guests in high-rises with views of the strip were awakened by security guards asking to check around windows for guns or other weapons.

The motorcade route proceeded from an area near Flamingo Road about 1 mile (1.6 kilometers) to Tropicana Avenue before a fan rally at Toshiba Plaza and the Park District in front of T-Mobile Arena.

Las Vegas police said they prepared for upwards of 100,000 people to cram street-level viewing areas along Las Vegas Boulevard for the celebration that planners compared with annual New Year’s Eve fireworks shows that in past years drew estimates of 400,000 people.

At one point people separated barricades and climbed fences but the crowd otherwise remained orderly.

Above the arena stage where the hockey players gathered with the trophy, a banner displayed the names of victims of the October 2017 mass shooting in Las Vegas that killed 58 people and injured more than 850.

A lone gunman rained bullets from 32nd floor windows of the Mandalay Bay hotel into a crowd of 20,000 people at an outdoor country music festival across the street. Fifty-eight people died that night and two died later of their injuries. Authorities said more than 850 people were injured. The gunman killed himself before police reached him. His motive for the attack was never firmly established.

People in the crowd Saturday recalled the shooting and the role the Golden Knights played in helping to rebuild the spirit of the community.

Players who dubbed themselves the Golden Misfits after being drafted from other NHL teams embraced survivors, first responders and volunteers and the team has over the years become a key part of “Vegas Strong” events aimed at healing community trauma.

That first year, team owner Bill Foley famously predicted the Golden Knights would make the playoffs in three years and win the Stanley Cup in six years. The franchise surprised many by making the playoffs the first year and advancing to the championship before losing to the Washington Capitals in five games.

This year, the Golden Knights cruised through the playoffs, never facing an elimination game, and routed the Florida Panthers 9-3 in Game 5 on Tuesday. Team captain Mark Stone scored a three-goal “hat trick.” Jonathan Marchessault received the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP.

Marchessault is one of the six original members of the Golden Knights expansion team. He and the others — Reilly Smith, William Karlsson, Shea Theodore, Brayden McNabb and William Carrier — were among the first to hold the Stanley Cup during post-game celebrations.

All week, players have been spotted celebrating at some of the same glittery resorts the procession passed. The casinos have familiar names: Caesars Palace, Flamingo, Bellagio, Horseshoe, Paris Las Vegas, Cosmopolitan, Planet Hollywood, New York-New York, Aria, MGM Grand.

The parade route, arena and plaza also hosted a championship victory celebration last September, after the Las Vegas Aces defeated the Connecticut Sun to win the WNBA Championship. The women’s basketball team also plays at T-Mobile Arena.

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