BILLINGS – You don’t have to be a hockey fan to appreciate what’s happening on the ice in Las Vegas.
At 500:1 odds, the NHL’s expansion Golden Knights are suddenly three wins from hoisting the Stanley Cup.
This is unheard of. Literally. It’s never happened to a first-year NHL expansion team.
When Las Vegas defeated Washington 6-4 Monday night in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final, former Billings Bulls athletic trainer Mike Muir had a front-row seat. More accurately, he was watching (working) from the bench.
Muir opened this season as the Golden Knights’ assistant trainer. And after all these years, in the midst of this magical ride never before seen, Muir is still understated.
“As everyone said, everyone is kind of waiting to see what the Eastern Conference finalist is going to be like and if we can still hang,” Muir deadpanned in a Tuesday night phone interview with MTN Sports, “and it looks like we can still hang.”
Monday’s series opener was an absolute roller-coaster ride. The Capitals and Golden Knights traded blows, combining for 10 goals, but neither team led by more than one until a Vegas empty-netter in the final minute.
Asked about his shift in adrenaline, one could sense Muir smiling.
“You can’t win it and can’t lose it in the first game,” he said. “I’ve got no power over what the boys do on the ice, so I hope for the best.”
The Canadian, who grew up wishing to play in the NHL, did paint a vivid first-hand picture of the hockey mania sweeping Las Vegas.
“It’s crazy, practices are full,” he said. “Lines for team gear are out the door and around the arena. I heard on the radio (Tuesday) that 44 percent of the TVs turned on (in the Las Vegas market) were watching the game last night.”
He’s correct. According to overnight ratings, the first stanza of this Stanley Cup Final turned in the NHL’s highest number for a Game 1 in three years. Almost one of every two TV sets powered up in Las Vegas was glued to hockey.
If you’re a betting fan, odds are promising that the ratings for Wednesday’s night’s Game 2 are even higher.
Not bad for a team that, less than a year ago, didn’t have a player on its roster.