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T-Mobile Arena not the same without Golden Knights fans

It’s like trying to re-create untouched land.

Can’t be done.

Instead of pristine coastline and forest, T-Mobile Arena is unique in the most electric way when the Golden Knights are on ice. It’s just really strange when the place is empty.

The Knights opened their fourth season Thursday night in the most different of atmospheres, beating Anaheim 5-2 to begin what will be a sprint of a 56-game regular-season schedule.

It has been more than 300 days since fans last rocked T-Mobile. This is the new normal: Three stars of the game skating around afterward waving to … nobody.

Not the same

“I heard a couple people (on the bench) talk about how much we miss our fans,” forward Max Pacioretty said. “It’s definitely not ideal. But given the circumstances, playing in our building is still going to be a better atmosphere than what it’s going to be at pretty much every other rink that doesn’t have fans. But it’s not the same.”

It’s probably as good as can be expected for now. Music still blared. Drum Line still played. Dancers still danced. Chance still did whatever it is Chance does.

The in-house entertainment was streamed across the team’s social media channels, where fans were asked to engage with hashtags and comments about the game.

Signs were hung for players to read as they warmed up. The lower bowl of seats were draped in red, back and gold.

There was still a pregame showdown between the Golden Knight and a forlorn foe representing the visiting team, only this duel is now prerecorded and plays out on the video screen. Spoiler alert: The guy wearing heavy armor still wins.

It wasn’t like a Raiders game at Allegiant Stadium, which is so big and expansive. There, you could actually hear quarterback Derek Carr call out audibles. You couldn’t hear much Thursday. The piped-in noise was that loud at times.

Some things don’t change: You can still get a free Jumbo Jack the day after a victory, and there are still free Krispy Kreme doughnuts after a shutout.

The chances of which lasted for all of 4:22 of the first period, when the Ducks scored to cut the Knights’ lead to 2-1.

Home games without fans will be like everything in the COVID world. It’s a learning process. The recorded reactions will become more timely. A first-period goal from Anaheim was followed by a muffled sigh from the loudspeakers. Sort of like a mother’s reaction when seeing her teenager’s messy room.

Golden Pipes returns

The arena went dark to start, the fourth Golden Knights team in history introduced one-by-one. As usual, a 20-foot-tall helmet was lowered from the rafters, from which each player skated onto the ice. The newly named captain, winger Mark Stone, was the last to appear on an evening in which he would total a goal, an assist and a career-best five hits.

And then, from The Fortress, came the majestic voice of Carnell Johnson singing the national anthem. Golden Pipes was back. Seemed so natural, so normal in a time, an arena, where anything was but.

“I miss the fans,” goalie Marc-Andre Fleury, who served as backup to Robin Lehner on Thursday, said this week when asked about current arena conditions. “I miss the emotions you get from them, the energy you get from the building. I think it makes playing those games a lot more fun.

“It is what it is, and we’re very fortunate to be able to still play. We just have to find a way to bring the best we can every night.”

Noise, no matter how loud, can’t equal the passion and unbridled excitement of a fan base that is among the best in hockey.

You can’t re-create it through a sound system.

Ed Graney is a Sigma Delta Chi Award winner for sports column writing and can be reached at egraney@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4618. He can be heard on “The Press Box,” ESPN Radio 100.9 FM and 1100 AM, from 7 a.m. to 10 a.m. Monday through Friday. Follow @edgraney on Twitter.

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