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Vegas Golden Knights leave lasting impact on the community

Golden Knights defenseman Nate Schmidt takes a picture with fans outside City National Arena on Friday, June 8, 2018. (Denise Rosch | KSNV)

While Vegas won't have the Stanley Cup, the city gets to keep the team.

Locals proved the critics who said hockey wouldn't work in the desert wrong. As it turns out, the Knights were exactly what the community needed.

There was an impromptu autograph session Friday in front of City National Arena.

"He didn't have to stop, but he did. That's so cool," said 11-year-old Emma Leyba, who won't forget meeting Golden Knight Nate Schmidt.

"This team has meant a lot ... to make it to the Stanley Cup [Final] in the first year," Emma said.

And no question, it's been a season to remember. From Lady Liberty to the MGM Lion to the thousands of fans packing Toshiba Plaza on game days, Las Vegas has become a hockey town.

"New lease on life for a lot of people," fan Kathleen Craner said.

She was driving for Uber on the night of October 1 and believes the Golden Knights played a key role in helping the community heal. On Friday, Craner was back at City National Arena.

"I went in there and cried," she said. "I don't want it to end. I'm so proud of our boys. Win or lose, I'll be a fan forever."

Rick Williams was at the arena too, along with his dog, Bark-Andre Furry, one of the team's most recognizable fans this inaugural season.

"All you have to do is go to that arena to see all the kids skating to realize what the team has meant to the city," Williams said. "Never in my life would I imagine hockey catch on here, and it did."

As for the players?

"They made it the most special," said the Golden Knights' center Cody Eakin. "It was fun playing in front of them."

Their bags are now packed, and the locker room is empty. But the team is closer than ever.

"Suddenly you find they're the tightest group I've ever played for," left winger Pierre-Edouard Bellemare said. "It's been a lot of fun."

"It was extremely special," said right winger Reilly Smith. "A lot of selflessness. A lot of dedication to come together, try to do something no one expected you to."

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