Behind the Golden Knights’ banner-raising ceremony that featured a slot machine

LAS VEGAS — Like the city they play in, the Golden Knights organization incorporates flare and showmanship into just about everything they do. Tuesday night’s banner-raising ceremony was no different. Captain Mark Stone pulled the giant lever of a 12-foot-tall slot machine, and out popped the championship pennant.

As creative as the presentation was, it looked simple enough on its surface. In reality, it took a coordinated effort from a team of workers all around T-Mobile Arena to pull it off.

The reels on the slot machine were actually three 60-inch flat-screen televisions fixed vertically. The wheel animations weren’t controlled by the lever Stone pulled, but instead by a button held by Golden Knights vice president and executive producer Andrew Abrams, who was standing close by in the Zamboni tunnel. The familiar slot machine sounds that accompanied Stone’s spin were controlled separately, initiated by the arena DJ Joe Green who sits inside the castle on the upper concourse.

Meanwhile, senior manager of entertainment experience Tyler Ferraro sat above section 14 calling out cues to the lighting department, prompting the rigging crew to hoist the banner, and the cameras to capture it all perfectly.

“That’s what’s really cool about that moment specifically,” Ferraro told The Athletic. “It’s a culmination of every department of the team working together to make this one very, very important moment happen, and everyone crushed it.”

The Golden Knights have raised the bar on in-arena entertainment since they joined the NHL in 2017. They’ve continually one-upped themselves along the way, and when the team won the Stanley Cup they knew what was expected.

“I think we would get destroyed if we just went out with a pregame music video and called it a day,” Ferraro said. “There is a lot of pressure, but what makes it really fun and exciting is how much buy-in we have from our leadership within the organization and from the fans themselves. Some of the stuff we come up with in our brainstorm sessions is pretty ludicrous stuff. We’ve gotten six years now of fan buy-in for these crazy hijinks that we do before the game. Knowing that the fans have our back means a lot, and knowing that we’re in the most entertaining city in the world.”

The idea of the slot machine came to Abrams suddenly while he was washing dishes at home in the middle of the Golden Knights’ playoff run.

“I’m like, ‘If we win this thing, what if the banner box was a slot machine?’” Abrams recalled. “That thought just popped into my head, but I filed it away. At that point, you can’t go around saying ‘Hey guys, if we win this thing wouldn’t it be cool?’”

Abrams waited, then on the night of the championship parade, he brought the idea to team president Kerry Bubolz and vice president of communications and content Eric Tosi. The idea was given the green light, and the preparations were underway. The entertainment team met to brainstorm ideas around the slot machine, ultimately deciding they wanted the theme of the entire ceremony to bring everything full circle from the team’s magical inaugural season.

First, a video was played telling the story of the franchise’s first six years, ending with the championship, then the spotlight shined brightly on a giant stone placed at center ice. It was the same stone from the original pregame show in 2017, and immediately conjured nostalgia among the fans.

“We had a feeling that fans would get a kick out of that,” Ferraro said. “It’s kind of a nod to those who have been here since day one, and drank our Kool-Aid, allowing us to have fun on the ice and do all these crazy things.”

The Golden Knight mascot pulled the sword from that stone countless times during the inaugural season. To complete the full circle moment they had him plunge the sword back into the rock, signaling the players to skate onto the ice.

Every moment is carefully choreographed, with Ferraro calling cues for each department on a mic. The full-time entertainment team is 13 members deep, plus four people who work cameras and edit, three handling motion graphics, and a team of roughly 100 people on game days controlling the lights, audio, rigging and more. The Golden Knight himself is wearing an earpiece to receive assistance with the timing of it all.

Meanwhile, stage managers were placed at the visiting team’s bench and down the referee tunnel to ensure they didn’t take the ice until the show was complete. The grand finale was Stone pulling the giant slot machine lever to unveil the banner.

“My heart was beating out of my chest,” said Abrams, who nervously paced around the Zamboni tunnel awaiting his moment to trigger the slot machine animation. “Last night was a lot more tense. I was doing laps around the arena last night. When the moment comes, and then you press the button and it works out. I think I was hugging people and high-fiving people around me.”

The entertainment team was able to rehearse the production several times in the days leading up to the game, but the players were only given verbal instructions for what to expect. At times Ferarro and Abrams leaned on public address announcer Bruce Cusick to coach them along. He narrated the show, and helped nudge the players toward a group photo as the banner went up.

“They were supposed to take the photo and at first they didn’t move,” Tyler said. “I quickly told Bruce to tell them to take a team photo. Bruce yells ‘Now it’s time for a team photo!’”

The Golden Knights pose for a team photo as the Stanley Cup Championship banner is raised. (Jeff Bottari / NHLI via Getty Images)

In the end, everything went smoothly, and Ferraro hugged Cusick in elation and relief. The ceremony was true to the organization’s brand, while still placing the focus on the players and their accomplishment. Stone and his teammates loved it.

“It was pretty awesome to see that,” Stone said. “We love living here. We love playing here. Any time you can use a theme for this city, and honor this city, (is great). We had the Elvis wig going last year and we’ll find something else out this year to honor it.”

It was another win for the entertainment crew that has been named the NHL’s best game presentation twice (the only two times the trophy has been awarded), and they aren’t stopping there. They already have a brand new show planned for Saturday’s home game against the Anaheim Ducks, where they’ll unveil a new character. A squire that will accompany the Golden Knight mascot, both during the pregame show and while he roams the arena during games.

The group continues to evolve to keep up with the ever-changing landscape in the entertainment capital of the world.

“It’s a well-oiled machine, it’s an army, and it’s all of these groups working in tandem,” Abrams said. “I’ve worked for previous teams and I’ve never been in a situation where our gameday staff cares so much about the product, and puts so much heart and passion into the product. We can come up with ideas all day long, but it’s all those individuals who are executing it that make the show come out the way we want it to. That’s really special.”

(Top photo: Candice Ward / Getty Images)

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