Vegas’ newest sports franchise struggles in debut

The Desert Dogs of the National Lacrosse League drew 7,052 to their inaugural home opener Friday but lost 9-3 to Panther City.

LAS VEGAS — Just about every professional team sport has tried to make it in Las Vegas. Indoor and outdoor football. Indoor and outdoor soccer. Ice and roller hockey. All sorts of basketball franchises.

Friday, the latest to try the market had its home opener — the Desert Dogs of the National Lacrosse League, an indoor version of the sport. It’s played in a hockey rink, and, like indoor soccer, is marketed as a fast, high-scoring game in a confined space.

Will it work? Call me skeptical. When the best-known commodity is ownership, it makes you wonder. 

When the Golden Knights joined the NHL, few, if anyone, knew who Bill Foley was. But they certainly had heard of Marc-Andre Fleury. Plus, minor league hockey had some success in Las Vegas, first with the Thunder of the International League, then the Wranglers of the ECHL.

The Desert Dogs’ ownership includes Hockey Hall of Famer Wayne Gretzky, Basketball Hall of Famer Steve Nash, pro golf star Dustin Johnson and Joe Tsai, who founded tech company Alibaba and owns the Brooklyn Nets. I couldn’t name a single player and I had no clue who the coach and general manager (Shawn Williams) was. I’m guessing I wasn’t alone among the 7,052 who showed up to watch the home debut of the Desert Dogs, who were defeated by Panther City, which is based out of Fort Worth, Texas, 9-3.

I’ll admit up front I don’t follow lacrosse. I picked up a stick once or twice but never played. I wrote about it years ago when I did a story on UNLV’s club outdoor team and watched the LAX Rebels play. I had heard of the Gait twins — Gary and Paul — and I knew who John Tavares was because he was the uncle of NHLer John Tavares. 

I saw an indoor lacrosse game once, back in the mid-1970s in Montreal at the Forum, and caught a ball, which I still have somewhere stashed away at my house. I went out of curiosity that day in Canada. Friday, I went to Michelob Ultra Arena, again, out of curiosity. 

It was fast-paced as expected. The line changes can be dizzying at times and the players are definitely skilled. What they can do with the ball and the stick is amazing. But they also take a beating. I can’t imagine getting whacked with a stick virtually nonstop for two-plus hours. It’s little wonder tensions boiled over in the final two minutes as several fights broke out.

I expected more than 12 goals combined (the league record for fewest goals in a game is 11) and had Panther City not scored twice on the power play late in the fourth quarter, perhaps history would have been made.

In talking to some fans who attended the inaugural home opener, the consensus was they had a good time and more than likely they would be back. I guess they didn’t mind the incessant noise throughout the game that seemed to make a Golden Knights game at T-Mobile Arena sound like a trip to the library.

There was a dance team, a DJ, fireworks and a cool halftime show from the Cirque du Soleil. Those who attended were no doubt entertained.

But how many of those 7,000-plus will return? We’ll see. I’m guessing Mark Fine, the team’s CEO, will learn a lot from Friday’s opener. He and his staff will see what works, what didn’t, fine tune the game presentation and build on the experience.

As for the players and general manager-coach Shawn Williams, they’ve got to figure a few things out. The Desert Dogs are 0-2 and scoring three goals at home is not the formula for success nor keeping your fan base engaged.  

“Playing in front of a crowd like that is every lacrosse player’s dream,” said goaltender Landon Kells. “We were close for 55 minutes but it got away from us late. It’s a learning experience.”

Williams said: “We’re disappointed we couldn’t win. But the crowd was amazing,

“Expectations are one thing, but you still have to play the game. They were coming at us pretty aggressively and they had us on our heels. We came back and had our chances but things slid away a little bit towards the end.

“But I like the character in our room. Now it’s time to put it to use.”

Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Would love your thoughts, please comment.x