They started as such a cute little story. A major league sports franchise in the middle of gambling country. A hockey team in the middle of the desert. A small city's first foray into bigdom in the sports scene. Funny thing happened. They started winning and didn't stop.
Even in Vegas you wouldn't bet these odds. The Vegas Golden Knights, a team that didn't have any players a year ago at this time, are playing for the oldest and most prestigious trophy in North American sports—the Stanley Cup. This is their first season. The Toronto Maple Leafs haven't been to the finals in half a century. It's been 47 seasons for the St. Louis Blues. The Arizona Coyotes (formerly the first incarnation of the Winnipeg Jets) have never been there in 38 years. How could this happen?
The cute little story started with an expansion draft. The Knights got to choose one player off of each of the other 30 teams' rosters. Under a complicated set of rules too difficult to attempt to explain, teams got to protect several of their players. In another set of rules that are impossible to explain, teams made deals with Vegas enticing them to take certain players. For example, the Columbus Blue Jackets gave Vegas a first round draft pick, a second round draft pick, and another player if they would take William Karlsson. The Pittsburgh Penguins gave up a second round draft pick to the Knights for them to take Marc-Andre Fleury. Karlsson is the team's leading scorer, and Fleury, who won three Stanley Cups in Pittsburgh, is the goaltender that is keeping them going.
In the beginning of the season, you weren't sure if they were ragtags, misfits, or All-Stars. They started 3-0 and 8-1. It was a cute little story. Then they went on a six-game eastern road trip, and went 1-5. Reality set in. This team isn't that good. Then they won five straight. Then they lost three. Then they won 12 out of 13 taking them into January, and they were for real. They ended up winning the Pacific Division, had the third-best record in the Western Conference, and the fifth best in the entire NHL. And all of their players were with other teams a season ago.
In the first round of the playoffs, the Knights swept the Los Angeles Kings. In the second round, they survived the San Jose Sharks in six games. In the conference finals, they lost game one at the Winnipeg Jets, and then won four straight, including the series clincher in Canada. Isn't this team worthy of some bandwagon jumping? There's plenty of room.
There are two sides of the fence in the world of sports fans when it comes to things like this. Some are going to think that what this new team has done is pretty cool, and root them on, hoping for a championship. Most of these people are in the state of Nevada, or have actually watched the team play. Many others are thinking, “What have they done to deserve this success?” Think of Chicago Cubs fans who had to wait 108 years for a World Series title. Heck, Cleveland Browns fans just want their team to win one lousy game. Thirteen existing NHL franchises have never won a Stanley Cup, and this expansion team is getting closer and closer.
Where do you sit? Which side of the fence are you on? If Vegas wins this year, they have nowhere else to go but down, right? Or maybe the Knights will become more of a symbol of the city than Celine Dion, Penn and Teller, Wayne Newton, and the Blue Man Group combined. The fact is, this team is pretty good. If you haven't watched them, you think they are doing all with goaltending. But these guys can score, too. By the way, they are playing the Washington Capitals in the finals, and although we wait to mention them until now, they aren't too shabby. Alexander Ovetchkin is one of the best players in the game, and has never won a Stanley Cup. Maybe he deserves it.
Honestly, this writer was rooting for the Winnipeg Jets in the last round against Vegas solely because that franchise has never done anything ever. Seeing the fans in that big city in the middle of the Canadian nowhere root for their team, I wanted to help them. Vegas doesn't really need any help, but winning it all in their first year would be a cool thing to feel like a small part of. Plus, you gotta go with the west coast. Am I right?
It's the new catch phrase in Vegas—It's Knight Time. Incidentally, Vegas beat Washington 6-4 tonight in game one of the best-of-seven. Just three wins to go.
Deja vu all over again and again and again and again: The Golden State Warriors defeated the Houston Rockets 101-92 in game seven of the NBA Western Conference Finals tonight, meaning they will take on the Cleveland Cavaliers for the championship for the fourth consecutive year. Proof that the regular season and the first three rounds (about a month and a half) of the playoffs are a complete waste of time.
Opening Night: The collegiate wood-bat Great West League begins their third season tomorrow with the Gold Sox opening in Klamath Falls, plus two other games. The league is once again fielding six teams, but for the first time since 2009, the team will once again be known as the Yuba-Sutter Gold Sox. In 2010, then-owner Tom Lininger changed the name to Marysville Gold Sox because no one knew what or where Yuba-Sutter was (the two counties where Marysville and Yuba City are located, respectively). I don't cover that team or that league anymore, but I did call a game in Klamath Falls in 2011, and loved Kiger Stadium. Opened in 1948, the press box seems like it is directly above home plate.
Personal catcher to the Max: It seems whenever Gerrit Cole takes the mound for the Houston Astros, you'll be able to find Yuba City's Max Stassi behind the plate. Stassi has caught five of Cole's six last starts, including Sunday's wild 10-9 game at Cleveland. Cole only gave up 3 of those runs in 7 innings, and in the five games that Stassi started behind the plate, Cole is 3-0 with a 2.34 ERA and 53 strikeouts in 34 2/3 innings. Max not only knows what fingers to put down, he's also batting .300 with 4 home runs, and a whopping .536 (15-for-28) versus lefties.
On-a-mot-a-WHAT?: It's a word you almost never hear, and especially in a baseball broadcast booth, but it was a former player who brought it up. Paul O'Neill, in the slow-moving Angels-Yankees game Sunday on YES (carried on MLB Network) described the word 'drizzle' as an onomatopoeia—a word that sounds like the thing it describes. O'Neill and play-by-play man Michael Kay had fun with that one for a few minutes, coming up with others such as 'whoosh', or 'bang' or 'doink'. Neither offered to spell the word, but that's okay.