VANCOUVER — By the time the Elvis Presley impersonator singing tunes between whistles had left the building, the NHL’s newest franchise was already well on its way to victory in the team’s first-ever exhibition game.
Tyler Wong scored three times and added an assist as the expansion Vegas Golden Knights picked up a 9-4 win over the Vancouver Canucks in pre-season action Sunday.
“It’s a huge honour,” said Wong. “The city’s very excited to get a team. To be a part of excitement like that is something special.
“It’s a pretty cool moment for all of us.”
The Golden Knights dressed a roster of mostly prospects and fringe NHLers, leaving behind the likes of forwards James Neal, Jonathan Marchessault, David Perron and Cody Eakin, defencemen Brayden McNabb and Deryk Engelland, and goalie Marc-Andre Fleury.
While the scoreline did nothing to flatter the Canucks, most of the team’s veterans were on a charter plane heading to China for two historic pre-season games against the Los Angeles Kings in Beijing and Shanghai next week.
Sporting white uniforms with grey, gold and red trim, along with black pants and white and gold gloves, the NHL’s 31st team scored early and often against a disjointed opponent.
“The first (regular-season) game in October, that’s going to be the big one,” said Vegas defenceman Shea Theodore. “But definitely to be a part of this game is pretty big.”
In the spirit of Vegas’ debut, the Elvis impersonator sang classics like “Viva Las Vegas” and “Burning Love” during some of the TV timeouts at Rogers Arena for some added Sin City flair to what was, for the most part, a sloppy game.
“It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity being able to be part of an expansion team,” said Golden Knights forward Cody Glass, the sixth pick at the 2017 draft. “I’m just trying to take it all in.”
Vegas head coach Gerard Gallant was happy with the way his youngsters performed, but like his players, also took the opportunity to soak in the moment.
“We had two rookie games last week, but this is the first real NHL game,” he said. “The first time stepping on the ice was real good and you do feel good about it.”
Tomas Hyka added two goals, while Tomas Nosek, with a goal and two assists, Nick Suzuki, with a goal and an assist, Paul Thompson and Alex Tuch also scored for the Golden Knights. Brad Hunt chipped in with three assists, while Glass, who the Canucks passed on in favour of fellow centre Elias Pettersson with the No. 5 pick in June, had two of his own.
Brock Boeser, with two goals and an assist, Philip Holm, with a goal and an assist, and Jordan Subban replied for Vancouver.
The Golden Knights survived a 5-on-3 power play for 1:44 early in the first period before Wong opened the scoring with the first exhibition goal in club history.
The winger collected a chipped pass from Glass on a power play with speed before beating Richard Bachman on a nice shortside backhand at 4:58.
“The puck was finding me in good spots,” said Wong, who had 109 points with the WHL’s Lethbridge Hurricanes last season and signed as an undrafted free agent. “I was able to bury them.”
Boeser — who had four goals in nine games at the end of the 2016-17 campaign and is in the conversation for a job with the Canucks — tied things at 10:52 when he ripped a shot shortside on Dylan Ferguson for his second of the pre-season after also scoring in overtime in L.A. on Saturday.
But the visitors struck again with the man advantage 1:28 later when Glass slid a no-look feed to Hyka, who made no mistake.
Vancouver responded again at 13:44 on Subban’s goal off the rush, but Vegas restored its lead for good at 14:28 when Nosek banged home a loose puck in the crease after Bachman stopped Stefan Matteau on a breakaway.
Wong added his second on a rebound off Hunt’s point shot that hit the post at 17:30 to make it 4-2 after one period, and the Golden Knights scored again on the power play on a Tuch tip-in at 5:25 of the second.
Thatcher Demko, viewed as the potential goalie of the future in Vancouver, replaced Bachman just before the game’s midway point, stopping Tuch on a partial break late in the period.
Vancouver got to within 5-3 at 2:21 of the third when Holm connected on another two-man advantage, but the defenceman then coughed the puck up under pressure to Wong, who snapped a quick shot at 6:56 for the hat-trick goal.
“I hope (Vegas fans) don’t expect that every night,” Gallant said of his team’s offensive outburst. “It’s a lot of fun in our market and I am sure they are going to enjoy that, but it’s an exhibition game.”