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Vegas Aspiring To Create Golden Experience At Chipotle-USA Hockey National Championships

By Justin Felisko, 04/03/24, 2:30PM MDT


Las Vegas is hosting a Youth Tier I USA Hockey National Championship for the first time.

HENDERSON, Nev. – Parents, friends, family, and the players themselves, were somewhat shocked Tuesday morning at 9 a.m. when the Las Vegas Golden Knights drumline – the Drumbots – burst into the lobby of First America Center.

Led by the Golden Knight himself and the team’s mascot, Chance, the group paraded into the rink to kick off the Chipotle-USA Hockey Tier I 16U National Championship and get everyone in attendance hyped for a week of youth hockey.

The contingency then headed 30 miles northwest to City National Arena for the start of the Tier I 18U National Championship in Las Vegas for another grand entrance.

“This is Vegas, baby,” Darren Eliott, senior vice president of hockey programming and facility operations for the Vegas Golden Knights, said with a smile. “It is just a little bit of fun to kick off in both places at different facilities. It was to give this a little flavor. After the fun, it is all about the hockey.”

Eliott tasked his staff at First America Center in Henderson, Nevada, and City National Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada, with creating a unique and memorable experience for the 32 teams that made the journey for the Tier I 16U and 18U national championships.

Beyond the welcome parade, there were DJs in each lobby on opening day and every player competing received a raffle ticket to win an autographed Golden Knights hockey stick from the team’s Stanley Cup championship season.

The Golden Knights have also brought in various national anthem singers from throughout the community as well, including Lynnae Meyers – the team’s Canadian national anthem singer/Henderson Silver Knights anthem singer.

Meanwhile, the Golden Knights and Silver Knights each are holding open public practices at City National Arena and First America Center this week that many of the youth teams have decided to stop by and watch.

This is the first time Las Vegas and the Golden Knights have hosted a Tier I USA Hockey national championship, and Eliott understands first impressions go a long way.

“It is about showing you can do it and delivering, but to have a USA Hockey event of this magnitude, hosting for the first time in Nevada for Tier I, is a big thing for us. You only get to do high profile events if you can pull it off. That only raises the level and expectation in the marketplace. To have the 16s and 18s – the best in the country – here in Vegas is something to shoot for. But it is better when you can execute, and I know my guys at both rinks, both teams, Wally (LaCroix) and Andrew (Stewart), know how to put on big events.”

Las Vegas hosted the 2022 NHL All-Star Game, and, of course, everyone is aware of the spectacle the Golden Knights have at their home games, especially during their run to the 2023 Stanley Cup title.

However, there is another benefit Eliott sees in hosting a Chipotle-USA Hockey National Championship.

Youth hockey participation in the state of Nevada has increased by 426% since the Vegas Golden Knights arrived in 2017-18. Meanwhile, the Vegas Jr. Golden Knights girls 14U Tier II team is in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, this week battling for a national title.

Now, youth players throughout Las Vegas, many who have their own Golden Knights branded equipment bags and gear, can get a taste of what Tier I hockey looks like from a national perspective.

“Our Vegas Jr. Golden Knights program is very important to us,” Eliott said. I ran Honeybaked, Little Caesars, the Jr. Thrashers. I have been around in terms of what works, what doesn’t and what’s real. What is real is our numbers are exploding, and that is exciting. It is vastly important for us to show the market what top level youth hockey looks like, so that the expectations are real.

“You have to start somewhere. So, the kids that are 10U, 11U, now – this is something they can see – an imprint of that is what you need to get to when we talk about Tier I hockey."

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