Vegas Golden Knights 2019 Ends with a Big Fuck You
There is no way this comes off as anything more than a poor sport, crybaby response. I realize that. However, I sit here approximately 12hrs after watching my hometown Golden Knights hockey team lose to the rival San Jose Sharks —and it still feels shitty.
I have a bit of history in these moments, as a fan. First, let me lead with the fact I was born and raised in Las Vegas, a huge sports fan from birth. That said, my city did not have professional sports. We had the UNLV Runnin’ Rebels basketball team, which, after my eighth birthday didn’t really do much to excite this town. I remember watching with my parents —both UNLV fanatics — as we cut down the nets in 1990 with Tark at the helm, and I remember the weird feeling radiating from our house almost exactly a year later, as that same team saw their undefeated season end with a loss in the Final Four to then-upstart Duke (whom we pulverized in the prior seasons National Championship game, 103-73), and watched as our three top players were all lottery picks in the following NBA Draft —not to mention Jerry Tarkanian pushed out by recruiting violation allegations (that were much later dropped).
As an adult, two of my three children are named with homage to that squad (5-year-old son Tark and 2-year-old daughter LJ; after head coach Jerry Tarkanian and 1st overall NBA draft pick Jarry Johnson).
Beyond that, when it came to professional sports, you had to sort of pick ‘em. For me, baseball was my true love, a stat-nerd from 5-years-old. Close in proximity were the Dodgers and Padres, though they never felt right. My loyalty would go to a terrible little team that, prior to MLB.tv and packages, had almost all of their games televised: the Atlanta Braves. Their record meant little to me at that age (and they were bad early on) and a couple of years after watching inning after inning, a hometown Vegas boy was traded from the Cubs to Atlanta (Greg Maddux), and it was officially on.
When it came to football, I adopted the Green Bay Packers. Partly for history, partly for Brett Favre (and now, Aaron Rodgers). But my loyalty to my hometown will shift that to the Raiders —and that’s another story.
When the Golden Knights were announced, it was electric. We were finally going to get a professional hometown team. And, fast forward through the typical interest-building first 2/3 of the season, we were on the map. Best start in expansion history, winning our division, winning our first playoff series, our second...our third. We, in year one, found ourselves in the Stanley Cup Finals, and with that, turned a city that, admittedly, had no real hockey ties into possibly the best home-ice advantage in the entire NHL.
There were plenty of naysayers —Las Vegas aren’t true hockey fans. Bandwagon fans. That we somehow “hadn’t earned it.” Meanwhile, I’m 35 and this is the first real hometown team I’ve ever had...and my feelings and loyalty say something very different. I’ve spent my entire life going to visiting stadiums and being the minority because Phoenix and San Diego and LA are a lot closer and cheaper than Atlanta and Wisconsin (which I’ve made the trip for both, including 2006 NLDS).
I was never much of a hockey fan. I can admit that. There wasn’t much reason to be. The desert didn’t really have much coverage or passion for it unless you were a Midwest transplant, and the NHL was the 4th of the four major sports...kids in Vegas typically didn’t grow up on it. That said, I feel no less a hockey fan than the kid that grew up watching the Blackhawks in Chicago or the Bruins in Boston. We just weren’t afforded that history. Now, we can build it.
And it’s true, my knowledge of the difference between a two-minute and five-minute cross-check isn’t as extensive as the guy that’s watched forever, just as I’d tell you I would put my knowledge of a strike zone up against anyone. But that doesn’t make me completely ignorant to it all.
So last night, as the Vegas Golden Knights sat on the cusp of their first game seven victory, a 3-0 lead and a drowning Sharks team the only remaining factors...I felt the first sting of hometown heartbreak in professional sports.
The argument is straightforward: the Knights led this series 3-1, and had all the momentum after winning three-straight. They were in the same curious spot the Caps were in last year facing us, and the same spot teams in all sports find themselves in on a yearly basis: the 3-1 nightmare.
Most of the time, the lead holds up. But I’ve always worried about being ahead 3-1, and here’s why: First, pressure is on you. Why? In this case, game 5 was in San Jose. Sure, down 1-3 can affect a team, but this is a tight series and the home team SHOULD win. They did. Now, that pushes the pressure further on the team leading 3-2, as they now know they must close the door, at home, in this game. At this point, it’s a new series. VGK played the better game, they attacked, and had more than double the shots than SJ. But as they say, it’s a game of inches, and after nearly two full overtime periods — the puck rolled San Jose’s way. And credit to them...they fought.
Finally, game seven. The game of games. The game that, not to already get on the officiating...but the game you let the players decide. The game to call balls and strikes as moderately as possible. The game you swallow your whistle on ticky-tack fouls under the bucket. The game (though never a game 7) you let the star wide receiver and star cornerback fight for the ball and keep your flag in your pocket.
The game where, when you admittedly don’t see the play in question —only the aftermath —you don’t call a game and series changing major penalty against the team that had dominated, on the road, for 50 minutes...in a building looking for something, anything, to feed on.
We’ve seen all of the egregious examples above play out. This time, however, it hit close to home for the first time, for about a million new Knights fans. And it was tough as shit to swallow.
There are seven games for a reason. Typically, playoff teams are very evenly matched. Playing games at home are often the deciding factor in those games. You can criticize Vegas for not closing game 5 on the road. You can criticize them for not coming through in a 2-1 double OT loss. But the reason for game seven is that you throw games 1-6 out the window, and the fact is Vegas came to play, and they won the battle in game seven.
There will be Sharks fans that die thinking —knowing —their team made an historic 3rd period comeback. They will hate the Knights for the “cheap shot” on Pavelski. They will say it was all just. And it’s all in how you view it.
For Knights fans, most unbiased fans, and even some Sharks fans, there is a sense that something was taken from the Knights last night and handed to the Sharks. And again, kudos to the Sharks for actually taking advantage —because they did. This is all a moot point if they score a goal, and the Knights kill the other 4 1/2 minutes. The fact is: major penalties and ejections are not, and should not be, handed out without knowing exactly what happened. The Sharks, dead in the water, were given a breath. And that’s all they needed.
A trip down the (not so fun) memory lane and my worst ref-induced heartbreakers (and for the record, this Knights game will stay number one maybe forever). These two happened to my teams in a matter of less than a month:
Braves v Cardinals Infield Fly Rule; October 5, 2012
In a long list of bad calls in sports history, this one was worse for the timing. The Atlanta Braves has finished the 2012 regular season as the second-best team in the National League, but also the second best team in the NL East (to the Washington Nationals). For the first time in history, Major League Baseball had a one-game playoff for Wild Card teams.
The Braves has a record of 94-68, a very solid season by any standard, the Cardinals at 88-74. In baseball standards, a 6.0 game better record, the Braves had the far-superior season.
All that aside, Atlanta hosted a one-game playoff to determine who would face the Nats in the NLDS. After falling behind early, the Braves mounted a furious rally in the bottom of the 8th inning, appearing to load the bases for Brian McCann with one out, trailing 6-3. Instead, Sam Holbrook called the Andrelton Simmons pop misplay by Cardinal shortstop and left fielder Pete Kozma and Matt Holliday in mid-left an infield fly rule out, putting runners at second and third with two outs and hanging as one of the biggest “what-ifs” in history.
FailMary: Green Bay @ Seattle 2012
This one was a lot more incompetence and ridiculousness than bad call. Replacement refs had drawn the ire of the entire league all season, capped by this travesty. Sure, it was early in the season, and the Packers went on to win the NFC North. When asked about Golden Tate’s obvious shove in the back of the defender, Seattle head coach Pete Carroll said “what push?” making him the worlds biggest douchebag winner.