When longtime Sportsnet host, Daren Millard, was invited to host the Vegas Golden Knights Expansion Draft back in 2017, he had no idea he would one day end up as the broadcast host for one of the most electric teams sports has ever seen. This unpredictable turn is, however, perfectly on-brand for a team that has built itself on the unexpected.
In the Beginning
Before the glitz and glam of divisional championships, there was simply the sports-barren land of Sin City. But it didn’t take long for the people of Las Vegas to buy into their new team. Millard explained that the energy at the Expansion Draft (which was happening within the NHL Awards) was unlike anything he had previously experienced within the industry.
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“The rink at the NHL Awards can be a little…let’s just say the audience is hockey [people], and we’re not funny people we’re very serious people, which is why it can be a challenge to host the NHL Awards because we don’t laugh a lot,” said the long-time analyst when describing the typical NHL Awards Night.
If there had been doubt about the local buy-in before, it was all but squashed after the awards as Millard illustrates the new kind of buzz around town by saying that “the upper bowl was just all Vegas Golden Knights fans, even the lower bowl was just packed with hockey fans. The energy was just different, which was really the first indication that this was going to be something different.”
According to Millard, you’d be hard pressed to find someone in the city who doesn’t own at least one piece of Golden Knights merchandise, a reality that is a far cry from many of the realists’ projections. While there was a loud cry from Vegas residents and sports watchers that they would make a team work, it was hard for many to ignore the reality of the NHL’s previous expansion franchises.
When the Clock Didn’t Strike Midnight
When Vegas won their first game, the hockey world smiled; at least the new team wouldn’t go 0-82. As Millard recalls it, the Golden Knights started as a nice story, without any expectations to make it anything more.
The months went on and they kept winning, so the hockey world started to pay attention, if not for waiting for the moment at which the clock would strike midnight and the Cinderella story would end. And Millard was no exception.
“You looked at the first month and it snowballed. I’ll be honest, I was waiting for the slipper to come off and for the clock to hit midnight,” confessed Millard when reflecting back on that inaugural season. At the time, he was still an anchor with the Sportsnet, the NHL’s Canadian national rights holder.
Finally, when the All-Star break rolled around, and the Golden Knights were sitting in playoff contention, it became time to pay attention.
When questioned about when he started paying attention, the club’s new broadcast host remembered thinking, “[b]y the midway point of that year, for me at least, you’re starting to think that there’s enough of a base here where […] there’s some legitimacy to all of it.”
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Seemingly out of nowhere, the Golden Knights won the Pacific Division in their first-ever season and were set to take part in the club’s debut playoff series. Not only were opponents now going to have to take on the Golden Misfits, as the team was so lovingly called throughout their first year, they were going to have to come to T-Mobile, a.k.a The Fortress, to try and knock the new guys off their game. A task, as explained by Millard, which was a lot easier said than done.
“Until you walk in and experience it, you can’t appreciate what that environment is, and does, for the team. To the point where it was a legitimate advantage in that first year because it would turn into a nightclub. The puck moves, it’s a hockey game. The whistle goes and it’s a poppin’, it’s crazy, it’s bizarre, it’s surreal.”Daren Millard on the atmosphere inside T-Mobile Arena
As the Golden Knights prepared to take on the 2018-19 season, Millard and his media counterparts, as well as fans across the league, couldn’t help but wonder if the Golden Knights would be able to continue their success, or if their inaugural season was a stroke of beginner’s luck.
As Millard now knows, nobody within the organization had any doubt that they would be able to carry their initial success into their sophomore season.
Since joining the team as their broadcast host for the 2019-20 season, Millard has had the chance to be privy to the franchise’s secrets to success. The foremost of which is the fact that the internal philosophy and approach is very much in stride with that of an established winner.
“It’s all about hockey, and that comes from George McPhee and Kelly McCrimmon.” Millard goes on to elaborate that “the philosophy is very dialled in, serious, and is about doing your job. It’s about being at the top of your game and putting in the work. It truly is about that crest.”
If that mentality sounds familiar, it’s essentially the same mentality the New England Patriots preach in their locker room, and they’re a dynasty decades in the making. So with a mindset like that, it isn’t surprising that Vegas didn’t appear to miss a beat throughout the 2018-19 campaign.
For the Future
The 2019-20 season would not only be an important one in setting the tone for the future of the Golden Knights, it also marked the start of the next chapter in Millard’s career. After Sportsnet underwent a change of direction, he took a year off in which he worked with the Winnipeg Jets broadcast crew as he pondered what the next phase might be.
Low and behold, the Golden Knights approached the man who had hosted their expansion draft about coming back into the fold. Listening to him tell it, it didn’t seem as though there was much hesitation from Millard as he was excited for the latest “Millard family adventure.”
Millard may not be in the bubble with the team as they prepare to partake in these strange 2020 Playoffs, but he confirmed that the energy is abuzz nonetheless. When asked to compare this energy to the one he felt at the expansion draft years ago, Millard says that it hasn’t changed, it has only been sustained over the course of the last three years.
With all that they’ve accomplished so far, it’s hard not to wonder where the ceiling is for this team. Millard assures that they remain in the upper echelon of the league, and will for some years to come. Though they have yet to eclipse the pinnacle of success by lifting Lord Stanley’s Cup, their window is far from closed. As Millard puts it, “there is a window, with this group, for the next couple of years. It’s a veteran group, but they also have some players just coming into their primes.”
The culture of success that has been established in Sin City is not one that is common to see so quickly in the world of pro sports, but it has quickly become the brand of the Golden Knights. But when it comes to narrowing down that culture and understanding how it was cultivated, according to Millard, it’s as simple as “talent, experience, and commitment.”