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The Golden Knights and Las Vegas are bonding through tragedy and triumph

Vegas Golden Knights defenseman Deryk Engelland speaks during a ceremony to honor the first responders of the shooting in Las Vegas before an NHL hockey game Tuesday, Oct. 10, 2017, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)

LAS VEGAS — Sports writers are prone to hyperbolizing the impact professional sports have on a community. No amount of hyperbole could capture the impact the Vegas Golden Knights’ home opener had on a grieving city.

Not since the 2001 World Series between the Diamondbacks and Yankees after 9/11 can I remember covering a more emotion-packed sporting event than Tuesday’s game at T-Mobile Arena between the Golden Knights and Coyotes.

#VegasStrong signs and Golden Knights jerseys littered the city, capturing the alternating emotions of excitement, mourning and resolve.

“From walking around here today, either being in cars with drivers or checking into the hotel or just interacting with people in restaurants, that’s the sense I’m getting,” NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said. “People are horrified about what happened, and determined to move on.”

In place of the pregame theatrics the franchise had planned for its home opener, Vegas honored the first responders who risked their lives and saved others when 58 people died in the worst mass shooting in American history on Oct. 1 at the Route 91 Harvest Festival of country music.

One Vegas player accompanied each of those firemen, police officers, EMTs, doctors and nurses on the ice. The Route 91 Harvest Festival team sang the national anthem. The Golden Knights and Coyotes both wore #VegasStrong decals on their helmets. Vegas alternate captain Deryk Engelland told fans, “like all of you, I’m proud to call Las Vegas home… we are Vegas Strong.”

The Coyotes lined up behind the Knights for the national anthem in a got-your-back show of solidarity. The sellout crowd sang the anthem in unison, but the most potent part of the pregame show came when the team asked everyone to observe 58 seconds of silence. With the arena otherwise in blackness, the scoreboard ticked off every second in large numerals, a sobering reminder of the 58 lives that were lost.

“It was a powerful moment,” Golden Knights’ owner Bill Foley said. “It’s a process here. It’s a tough deal that happened nine days ago, but we’re trying to do our part. Our players are really trying to do their part.”

Foley admitted that the Knights are feeding off the energy the city is providing them as Las Vegas’ first major professional team, but the Knights are clearly returning the favor with this 3-0 start — the first 3-0 start by an expansion team in NHL history.

That the Coyotes looked overmatched in a 5-2 loss, and are off to an 0-2-1 start was a footnote on this night. There was a bigger picture to consider.

“The response from the crowd was phenomenal,” Engelland said. “It was the least we could do for those people that went through that. We want to get every win we can for the city and the people that were involved. When you get texts from the fire department, saying the spirits are lifting around the department, it’s crazy.”

No amount of Knights wins will bring back the lives that were lost in another senseless American shooting, but each Vegas victory feels like a small dose of medicine to help the healing.

Vegas needed this. Its new team delivered.

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