A Brief History of Las Vegas Hockey

Former Las Vegas Thunder Radek Bonk eventually went on to play for the Ottawa Senators in the NHL.

We take a look at the Las Vegas hockey teams that paved the way for the Golden Knights

As of recent history, the Vegas Golden Knights are arguably one of the best teams in the NHL.

The Golden Knights were originally founded as an NHL expansion team in 2017 and have qualified for the Stanley Cup playoffs in all four of their seasons so far, and even made it to the Stanley Cup Finals in their inaugural season. Since their founding, the Golden Knights have created a loyal fan base and paved the way for its affiliated American Hockey League team the Henderson Silver Knights last year. 

While the Knights are Las Vegas’ first NHL team and first-ever professional sports team, the city has a close history with the sport that goes back over 50 years. 

Here’s a brief look at the hockey trailblazers that came before the Golden Knights:

Note: List doesn’t include college, amateur, junior league, and roller hockey expansions

1968-71: Las Vegas Gamblers

The Las Vegas Gamblers originally started off as a senior amateur team, but grew into eventually becoming affiliated in the California-Nevada Hockey League. This league eventually evolved into the Pacific Southwest Hockey League and later the West Coast Hockey League. That same league later morphed into the Pacific Southwest Hockey League. The team played its last home game in 1971.

1971-73: Las Vegas Outlaws

This semi-pro team had a short-run, but it did leave a historical imprint for some time on Las Vegas’ hockey scene. 

The Outlaws had one of the best single-season records of any hockey team in Las Vegas history, with the inaugural 1971-72 team wrapping their season 29-8-4-0.

1993-1999: The Las Vegas Thunder

The Las Vegas Thunder proved to be one of the city’s most notorious hockey teams during its six-year run. The Thunder began in 1993 as a professional team in the International Hockey League, and made a strong showing in their first season—finishing with the best record in the league–115 points and a 52-18-11 record. The Thunder notbaly won the 1993-94 and 1995-96 division championships.

The team originally played at UNLV’s Thomas & Mack Center, but was dissolved in 1999 after failing to reach an agreement with university officials about using the venue after the 1998-99 season. Notable alumni include Radek Bonk and Alexei Yashin who would eventually go on to play for the Ottawa Senators.

Manon Rheaume, the only woman to ever play in an NHL pre-season game (Tampa Bay), briefly played for the Thunder in 1994-95.

1994-95: Las Vegas Aces

The Aces had a brief run in the semi-professional Pacific Southwest Hockey League. Notably, their roster was headlined by Larry Melnyk, a Stanley Cup-winning defenseman who played in on several NHL teams throughout the 1980s including the Edmonton Oilers, the New York Rangers and Vancouver Canucks.

1995: Las Vegas Ice Dice

This team joined the North American League in 1995, but never played a game. The team disbanded the same year. 

2003-2015: Las Vegas Wranglers

The Wranglers were members of the Pacific Division of the Western Conference following the ECHL’s takeover of the West Coast Hockey League in 2003. 

The team won various accolades over its 12-year history, and currently holds the highest winning percentage in ECHL history. The team notably won the 2007-08 and 2011-12 Conference Championships.

The Wranglers played at the Orleans Arena and were also known for their unique promotional events, including collaborations with the Blue Man Group and their annual “Midnight Roundup” games which featured the only midnight games in the league so Vegas locals who worked during normal game time hours would have a chance to catch a game. 

The team disbanded in 2015 after failing to secure a facility to play at. 

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