When the Minnesota Wild schedule was released last summer, a lot of fans immediately circled March 16 and began planning a road trip for the Wild’s first-ever visit to Las Vegas and a game against the expansion Golden Knights.
They weren’t alone.
Fans of all 30 other NHL teams began planning their treks to Sin City as well, and those visiting fans have helped the Golden Knights sell out every game of their inaugural season at T-Mobile Arena. Through mid-February, the Golden Knights are averaging 17,948 fans per home game in a 17,500-seat arena. That average of 103.3 percent of capacity is third-highest in the NHL, behind the Chicago Blackhawks (109.1% of capacity) and the Wild (105.8%).
The combination of visiting fans, the team’s surprising on-ice performance (the Golden Knights are leading the Pacific Division and are a shoo-in to make the playoffs) and the newness of hockey in the desert have made the Golden Knights one of the big storylines in the NHL this season. So what should Wild fans expect if they want to make the trip? Here are a few things to consider:
How to get there
It’s a 1,662-mile drive from the X to T-Mobile Arena, so unless you’re prepared for a lot of hours on the interstate, you’ll want to fly. Delta, Sun Country and Southwest are among the carriers flying directly from MSP to LAS. As of mid-February, air fare for a March 15 departure/March 18 return started at $345 (Southwest) and ranged up to about $1,000 on Delta. Some cheaper fares can be found by adjusting the dates.
Where to stay
With more than 150,000 hotel rooms, Las Vegas has more rooms than any city in America. If you want to be close to T-Mobile Arena, however, you’ll focus on the south end of the Las Vegas Strip, where the arena sits between Las Vegas Blvd and I-15, on Frank Sinatra Drive. New York, New York and the Monte Carlo are the two closest hotels, next to the arena on the west side of Las Vegas Blvd. The massive MGM Grand – with more than 5,000 rooms, it’s the largest hotel in America - is just across the street on the east side of the Strip. You can also stay further north on the Strip and ride to the game on the Las Vegas Monorail, which has a stop at MGM Grand.
Where to park
Probably the best advice regarding parking is DON’T. For years, the Strip casinos were famous for free parking, but in late 2016 – shortly after T-Mobile Arena opened – the casinos all began charging for parking. Driving to Golden Knights games now involves at least a $20 parking charge, along with fighting the legendary traffic congestion on Las Vegas Blvd. Take a cab, call an Uber. If you’re driving in from the outskirts of town, one reasonable alternative is to park at the Westgate Resort (formerly the Las Vegas Hilton) which still offers free parking and where you can ride the aforementioned monorail to the MGM Grand stop.
Getting tickets/where to sit
With every game a sellout, tickets are going to be tricky, and you’ll need to be prepared to shell out some money. The Golden Knights web site has upper-level seats available starting at $125/ticket, and lower-bowl seats starting at $180. If you look to on-line resellers, Stub Hub prices currently start at $105 for the March 16 game, and are comparable on other sites like SeatGeek, Ticketmaster and VividSeats.
Trying to buy outside the arena (scalping) is difficult. The plaza outside the arena is heavily watched by both arena security and Las Vegas police, and scalping is illegal in Las Vegas. Anyone trying to re-sell tickets is immediately chased off the plaza and on to the adjacent New York, New York property, where private security chases them out to Las Vegas Blvd.
As for seat location, the lower bowl at T-Mobile Arena is comparable to the Xcel Energy Center, and anything in sections 1-20 will be a good seat. Unlike the X, however, the suite level does not go completely around the rink, and on the “open” end there are a series of sections numbered 105 to 117. These are also good seats, and – most importantly for visiting fans – they are on the end where the visiting team shoots in the 1st and 3rd periods.
The 200 level might sound like “nosebleed” seats, but that’s not really the case. T-Mobile Arena has nothing comparable to the Xcel Energy Center’s Club Level, so the bottom 10-12 rows of the 200 level are comparable to the X’s Club Level.
What to do pre-game
Adjacent to T-Mobile Arena, on the east side, is an area called Toshiba Plaza. Before Golden Knights games, there are food vendors, live music, ball hockey areas and fans milling about. However, just across the street to the east, adjacent to New York, New York, is a bar called the BeerHaus, which has become THE place for visiting fans to gather. Part of a complex known as “The Park,” the Beerhaus has food, dozens of brews and before every Golden Knights games, there are dozens and dozens of fans wearing visiting team sweaters.
The game experience
You’ll know immediately that you’re no longer in the State of Hockey. It’s Vegas, baby, and so everything comes with extra lights, extra noise and extra pizzazz. The pre-game video begins with a Ponderosa-style map of North America and logos of all the NHL teams, which are shown making the trek towards southern Nevada, in search of the “treasure” to be found there. A bad guy wearing a black cape and waving the visiting team’s flag comes out on the ice, where he is met by a Golden Knight on skates, who fights off the attacker and then draws a sword from the stone set at center ice. (Yes, it’s hard to describe…you really need to see it.)
The arena is nicknamed “The Fortress” and includes a castle-like structure at the top of the 100 section. That area is populated by the “Knight Line,” which is a combination of dancing girls and illuminated drummers known as “Drumbots.” (Again, you really need to see it.) Instead of Nordy running around, there’s a Gila Monster known as “Chance” who moves around the building posing for pictures with kids and shaking hands.
State of Hockey connections
You can hardly have an NHL team without Minnesotans, and the Golden Knights are no exception. St. Cloud native Nate Schmidt is having an outstanding year on defense, while former Gopher and Wild forward Erik Haula has more than 20 goals already. Former Wild defenseman Clayton Stoner is there as well, along with former Wild first-round pick Alex Tuch, who has also reached double figures in goals.
What else to do
Are you kidding, it’s Las Vegas! If you can’t find something to do in Vegas, there may be no hope for you. But if your immediate need is for more hockey, you can make the relatively short (four-hour) drive to Phoenix, where the Wild will take on the Coyotes the next evening.