Growing up a Vancouver Canucks fan, former Vernon resident Larry Mikalishen knows well the feeling of disappointment of his favourite National Hockey League team not winning a Stanley Cup.
It started in 1982, when the Canucks were swept in the final by the New York Islanders. Then came 1994, and a Game 7 loss to the Rangers in New York. And, of course, the Game 7 defeat at home to the Boston Bruins in 2011.
Fast forward 12 years. Mikalishen – firmly ensconced in Las Vegas since the new millennium, and a seasons-ticket holder with the Vegas Golden Knights since Day 1 in 2017 – is in his seats Tuesday, June 13, in row 1 of the upper level of T-Mobile Arena that he considers ‘the best in the house,’ between the two players’ benches. The Golden Knights are leading the Florida Panthers 9-3 and are a minute away from winning the Stanley Cup in just their sixth year of operation.
You’d think Mikalishen would be jumping up and down, and going nuts.
“I was in a state of, maybe a bit of shock? It wasn’t what I thought it was going to be,” said Mikalishen, 61, a 1979 Vernon Senior Secondary School graduate and former lighting technician who travelled the world with various rock bands before settling in Vegas 23 years ago. He is now regional general manager of 4Wall Entertainment, a full-service lighting, video, and rigging company servicing all facets of the entertainment industry.
“I thought I’d be leaping up and down, crying and cheering. Instead, I was just sitting there, thinking, ‘I can’t believe this just happened.’ I was excited and I did cheer, but it was a different feeling than I thought was going to have.”
The euphoria for the Golden Knights fan set in later Tuesday evening. He couldn’t sleep, repeating in his mind, ‘Vegas Golden Knights: Stanley Cup champions. Did this really just happen?’
“Honestly, it was probably more exciting yesterday (Wednesday) because the game Tuesday was so draining, so tense,” said Mikalishen. “After years and years and years of disappointment, I got to see my team win the Stanley Cup.”
When Mikalishen arrived in the desert at the start of the 21st century, hockey, he said, was almost unheard of.
He’d go to a local watering hole, trying to find the Stanley Cup playoffs on a TV somewhere. ANY television in the joint. But no. While he could watch women’s college basketball and other NCAA sports to his heart’s content, there was nary an NHL game to be seen.
That didn’t really change until the nearby Los Angeles Kings won the Stanley Cup in 2012 and 2014, and then came rumblings that the first professional sports team to be based in Las Vegas would be an NHL franchise.
Mikalishen got in on the ground floor thanks to connections with the hockey team he still skates for in Sin City.
“I was among the first 50 people for season tickets,” he said. “The ticket drive was run by MGM and a guy on my hockey team (which includes Canadian Football League Hall of Fame receiver Ray Elgaard of the Saskatchewan Roughriders, and the former all-time penalty minutes leader with the Pittsburgh Penguins when he left the team in 1990, Rod Buskas), his wife was heading up the drive for season tickets.
“I put a $600 deposit down even before knowing the team was going to be awarded.”
Mikalishen originally signed a five-year contract for his seats, then re-upped for another three years at the end of last season. In the team’s first six years, he has attended all but a handful of regular-season and playoff games.
“The first season was amazing,” he said. “There were a lot of bandwagon fans who are heavily intense hockey fans. People want to grow and evolve the sport, and we welcome the band-wagoners. Go see the Vegas Golden Knights. You’ll be a fan.
“In Year 1 there were so many people who didn’t know what offside was. Now, they know the rule book inside and out.
“Most of the players, I’d never heard of and I’m a hockey fan.”
Mikalishen recalls the team’s first-ever regular-season home game. It came weeks after a mass shooting Oct. 1, 2017 at the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino that resulted in 58 deaths. Mikalishen had been at an exhibition game at T-Mobile that night. He missed the massacre by five minutes as he drove home past the resort following a boost to his Jeep battery, which wouldn’t start.
“The team and the city rallied together with the shootings as one,” said Mikalishen. “It was the first time since I lived in Vegas that it felt like a community. The Knights were more than just a hockey team. They were part of the healing process of the city, they brought everybody together.”
The inaugural season saw the Knights go all the way to the Stanley Cup final with “a bunch of misfits,” a nickname bestowed upon them by the media. They would lose in five games to the Washington Capitals.
On June 13, when they won the Cup, nine original Golden Knights were still with the team, much to Mikalishen’s delight. His favourite player is misfit William Karlsson.
“The team usually starts the fourth line, and when they announced ‘starting on wing, Riley Smith,’ I thought, ‘Oh, they’re starting Karlsson’s line,’” said Mikalishen. “Then they announced Karlsson. And Jonathan Marchessault. And then I realized they were starting the original misfits, with Shay Theodore and Brayden McNabb on defence. That was the most moving thing about Game 5. It got you right in the heart.
“Those players worked year-after-year for the team. To see them hoist the Cup was really something.”
Mikalishen will watch the Golden Knights celebrate one more time with the team’s victory parade Saturday. Then, in true, season-ticket-holder-fan fashion, he said he’ll “drop a couple of thousand dollars” on Knights’ Stanley Cup swag and gear.
“You know, stuff I’ll never wear but have to have,” he laughed.