It’s practice day at the City National Arena where the Vegas Golden Knights are back in action on the heels of winning Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final. Fans are huddled on the bleachers cheering on the city’s first major-league sports franchise.
The practice days are so popular the team had to initiate first-come, first-served admission until the building reaches capacity. Fans ranging from kids to adults bang on the ice rink glass and sometimes catch the team’s historic first-year pucks.
“Do I have to return this?” one fan asks.
In the locker rooms behind the rink, Alex Tuch and David Perron are removing their jerseys and skates while simultaneously conducting interviews.
Communication Studies grad Sage Sammons is coordinating the interviews for international, national and local media with the players, coaches and executive staff. He’s the director of communications for the team working on press conferences, pitching stories and ensuring reporters have what they need.
“It’s unreal. It’s fun to be part of. Especially in year one and no one thought this is where we would end up, so it’s exciting to be part of the journey,” Sammons, 30, said.
There used to be about 15 media members wanting interviews on practice days. The afternoon before Game 2, there are about 70, from as far away as Sweden, Australia, China, and Canada. There’s a shuttle waiting to transport the media back to T-Mobile Arena. The press boxes in the arena have been expanded to two sections. The standing-room only spot for guests have been converted to a media area on the south point overlooking the ice.
The stories Sammons has helped to tell have been plentiful. Like the pre-game show that’s made waves, billed as the hottest thing to see, according to the New York Times.
“You’re coming to the building for an experience, and we hope it’s a positive experience and we hope we can win. But if we don’t win, we want you to leave thinking ‘Dang they lost but that was a lot of fun, I haven’t had that much fun at a hockey game in a long time,’” Sammons said.
Sammons has sought out UNLV graduates as interns who are gaining experience as game night staff. They work with media, provide credentials, write game notes, transcribe quotes from both teams and coaches, or write news releases. There are about seven graduates from UNLV who work with Sammons to ensure the team’s communication and media process run smoothly. Sammons wants more UNLV grads to get involved and hopes the grads who do work with the Knights gain valuable public relations experience.
The Montana native who grew up on a farm came here thinking he would get a degree in hospitality found himself more passionate about telling stories. He was sports editor of the campus newspaper, and got an internship with UNLV Athletics. That led to a full-time gig after graduation working in sports information. He oversaw college football, women’s golf, and baseball.
He had no National Hockey League experience, but the team took a chance on him like the city has taken a chance on the team.
In this first season, Sammons has had nights where he doesn’t get home until 1 a.m., and he traveled on about 60 percent of the road trips. His wife has to remind him of the year he’s been having.
Sammons may not have been born and raised in the Las Vegas Valley but neither are the Golden Misfits, as the players call themselves. But like so many transplants to Vegas, the players immediately saw this place as a community — not just as Sin City. That’s the story Sammons is determined to tell.
“Having a rally point like a professional sports team can help shed that identity and what we’ve seen this year, it put Las Vegas on a platform to show that it is a community.”
The team embodied that community spirit shortly after the Oct. 1 mass shooting at the Route 91 Harvest festival. A majority of the players are not from Las Vegas and were only in town two or three weeks before the shooting occurred. They immediately stepped up to show their support, Sammons said. Team members visited firehouses, hospitals, brought food and and donated blood. Their first home game Oct. 10 started with a 40-minute tribute to the victims, survivors, first responders, and trauma surgeons. There was a moment of silence for 58 seconds. The Knights retired number 58.
“The guys came forward to say ‘How can we help?’” Sammons said. “They saw this is as a tough time for the city. They saw an opportunity for the city when the city needed them the most and they really wanted to be there.”