THE VEGAS GOLDEN KNIGHTS CONTINUE TO BUILD AN EMPIRE IN THE DESERT

The NHL franchise is moving its AHL affiliate to Nevada, where the newly-christened Henderson Silver Knights will be just a stone’s throw away from the parent club. And the locals are excited.

Cody Glass (right) - doesn't throw stones|Russell LaBounty-USA TODAY Sports

Cody Glass (right) – doesn’t throw stones|Russell LaBounty-USA TODAY Sports

This ‘hockey in Nevada’ thing seems to be working out pretty well. Not only have the Vegas Golden Knights been an exemplary expansion team since joining the NHL in 2017, but the next iteration of the franchise sounds like it’s off to a rollicking start.

Vegas’ new AHL farm team is the Henderson Silver Knights and according to Vegas president of hockey operations George McPhee, the locals have jumped on board with both feet.

“It’s incredible,” McPhee said. “Our season-ticket deposits for that team are now close to 8,300. We haven’t even built the rink yet.”

Henderson is a city of more than 300,000 people in Nevada, located right outside Las Vegas. The proximity to the Golden Knights’ arena and head offices are an obvious reason why the Golden Knights will benefit from the new team, which was moved from San Antonio with the AHL’s blessing. This season, Vegas’ AHL affiliate was the Chicago Wolves – which, it goes without saying, is a bit more of a hike for players being sent up and down from the NHL.

Henderson’s new practice facility should be ready in a few months, according to McPhee, while the Silver Knights’ main arena will be ready in a year. So for Henderson’s maiden campaign, the Silver Knights will likely play at Orleans Arena, which is just down the street from T-Mobile Arena, where Vegas plays. Orleans is also where the old ECHL Las Vegas Wranglers used to play.

Needless to say, the Golden Knights see tremendous benefits in having their farm team right in their own backyard.

“There are all kinds of efficiencies,” McPhee said. “Players can come in the summer and start training, knowing they don’t have to move anywhere for a year – whether they’re on the AHL team or the NHL team, they’re in Vegas. We can manage the team from our offices, we can watch them live, watch them practise and there’s a terrific division out here with a little more emphasis on development because there are fewer games and a little more practice time.”

That would be the AHL’s Pacific Division, which features five California teams plus the Colorado Eagles and Tucson Roadrunners right now. Due to geography, most of that division has played eight fewer games than the league’s other three groupings since it was established in 2015-16.

The timing of Henderson’s arrival is great for Vegas, too. The Golden Knights have some terrific young talents bubbling up at the pro level, the latest being sublime winger Jack Dugan, who played for NCAA Providence College this season and dominated the college ranks. Centre Cody Glass and defenceman Nic Hague have already played a bunch of games in the NHL, but if the Golden Knights wanted either of them to log some heavy minutes for a weekend or two, now Henderson provides maximum flexibility.

In general, if someone on Vegas gets sick or hurt during the morning skate, it’s simple to ring up someone on Henderson to come out for the game that night – an arrangement that a growing number of NHL teams from Toronto and Montreal to San Jose and Winnipeg (which also house their AHL teams in the same city/area) currently enjoy.

“That’s hard to pull off when your team is in Chicago and you have to fly,” McPhee said. “We were delighted to purchase a franchise and relocate.”

And by the sounds of it, folks in Henderson are delighted to have a hockey team coming to their very own town. Hockey in the desert? Yeah, it’s becoming quite the thing.