MCCULLERS COLUMN: Months after Montana visit, Golden Knights take sports world by storm

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Whitefish businessman- turned-hockey team owner Bill Foley came to the Flathead Valley last August with a simple goal — to turn Montana into “Golden Knights country.”

The Las Vegas Golden Knights, who at that point had yet to play an NHL game, needed all the support they could find, and Foley, fellow Whitefish resident and 18-year NHL veteran Murray Craven and two of the team’s players trekked north to the Treasure State in search of it.

“We’re going to (invest) here and we’re going to do it in other towns in Montana,” Foley told the Inter Lake at the hockey clinic for children hosted by the Golden Knights. “You start when they’re young. The young (kids) start supporting the team. They start wearing Golden Knights jerseys and hats. That’s where we’re going to get to.”

Even Foley likely wouldn’t have predicted they’d get there this quickly.

No longer do the Golden Knights have to search out their fans. Not just Montana, but the sports world, has jumped on the Golden Knights’ bandwagon as they’ve become the most successful expansion team in the professional sports history.

Vegas’ first-year success and tear through the Stanley Cup playoffs to the Western Conference finals might be the biggest story in all of sports right now. If it’s not, it certainly has a bone to pick.

The Golden Knights’ dominance in their inaugural season is, in short, unprecedented.

No MLB expansion team has managed a winning record or a playoff appearance in Year 1. Same goes for the NFL.

Only one expansion NBA franchise — the 1966-67 Chicago Bulls — advanced to postseason play, but it did so with a middling 33-48 record.

The Hartford Whalers and Edmonton Oilers are the last two NHL expansion teams to make the playoffs (though neither had a winning record), doing so in the 1979-80 season.

The Golden Knights are the first expansion team in any pro sports league to finish with a winning record in Year 1. There have been 64 such teams since 1960.

They did so in dominant fashion, winning the Pacific Division with a 51-24-7 record.

The postseason has provided little more resistance, as Vegas swept the Los Angeles Kings before sending the San Jose Sharks home in six games.

Such a playoff run would be impressive for any squad. To do so as an expansion team was previously unimaginable.

No wonder fans aren’t hard to come by in Vegas these days.

Evan McCullers is a sports reporter and columnist for the Daily Inter Lake. He can be contacted by phone at (406) 758-4463. or by email at emccullers@dailyinterlake.com.

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