When the Henderson Silver Knights finally take the ice at Orleans Arena to start the next American Hockey League season, many around town will know that they weren’t the first team to do so.
Located in Paradise, Nevada within the heart of the Las Vegas Valley, Orleans Arena has hosted a multitude of live events since its opening in 2003, including a variety of concerts and frequent matchups in boxing, wresting, curling, basketball and arena football.
Local fans know that professional hockey was also a mainstay at Orleans Arena since the Las Vegas Wranglers of the ECHL made the venue its home in the fall of 2003.
Similar to the Golden Knights, the Wranglers originally arrived in the city of Las Vegas as an expansion franchise. For the Wranglers, the arrival was part of the ECHL’s absorption of the West Coast Hockey League prior to the 2003-04 season.
It didn’t take long for the new team to gather attention locally, making playoffs in the first season led by head coach Glen Gulutzan, now an assistant coach in the NHL for the Edmonton Oilers.
“We thought the attendance numbers were overall pretty fantastic for an ECHL team,” said Rex Berman, the Executive Director at Orleans Arena. “One unique thing we noticed, and we all see it now with the Golden Knights, was when you walk into the arena and 90% of the people in the building always had either a Wranglers jersey or shirt on. You could see from the amount of merchandise, and ancillary stuff that would come along, that the fans were definitely into the product.”
Out of 11 total seasons played in Las Vegas and Orleans Arena, the Wranglers captivated fans by advancing to the ECHL’s postseason 10 times. The team appeared in the Kelly Cup twice during their tenure in town, falling just short of a championship in 2008 and again in 2012.
“There was an extra investment in the team that a lot of places didn’t see,” said Berman. “The fanbase was very loyal. We knew that hockey was a good fit for this town.”
Looking around Las Vegas today, connections aren’t challenging to find between the sport’s past, present and promising future.
“I don’t think we really knew what all Vegas could be capable of,” said Mike McKenna, who spent two seasons with the Wranglers during his career as a goaltender and is now a member of the Golden Knights broadcast team. “With the enthusiasm of the fans at Wranglers games who were very knowledgeable and involved, it makes sense now. The question of could it be done was always there, but so was the enthusiasm.”
The Henderson Silver Knights will be the first hockey team to call Orleans Arena home since the Las Vegas Wranglers did from 2003-2014. Although plans currently remain unknown for both the upcoming AHL and NHL seasons, one guarantee is that Las Vegas will be ready to continue its enthusiasm as a true hockey town.