One of the biggest narratives surrounding the arrival of the Vegas Golden Knights to the NHL was that visiting teams could underperform playing against them due to the many distractions of Sin City.
For young, wealthy NHL players, there’s plenty to do in Vegas besides focusing on hockey including gambling, concerts, and nightlife. With all of that temptation, the media coined the phrase “Vegas Flu” in 2017 to explain the expansion Golden Knights winning six of their first seven games and off performances by away teams.
Golden Knights forward Jack Eichel was a guest on The Pat McAfee Show on Wednesday and was asked if the Vegas Flu is a real thing and if he’s ever smelled liquor on an opposing player.
“Let’s just say, I’ve learned that the Vegas Flu is a real thing,” Eichel said laughing. “Playing here you talk to guys after the game about what you do the last few days. Some schedules [have] teams to be here three or four days prior to our game. They’ve had a nice little trip and it works in our favor that we get them at the end of a few long days in the Strip, playing cards and gambling and drinking.”
Occasionally, though, the shame of the Vegas Flu bites back.
“But sometimes you get the opposite,” Eichel explained. “You get a team that’s done that but then they’re playing guilty so they’re working even harder. I’m sure there are plenty of guys that have had guilty games here this season. We definitely know that going into games. We hear it from other people if guys have been out and what they’ve been doing.”
Eichel added, “Playing guilty, yeah. Maybe had a couple too many beers the night before and same thing. You don’t want to catch any heat so you’re working extra hard and you’re doing anything to help the team win that night.”
Vegas burst onto the scene in its first season, winning the Pacific and going all the way to the Stanley Cup Finals in 2018. (Of course, we all know what happened once they got there.)
That meteoric rise was due in large part to the team’s stellar record at T-Mobile Arena, located right in the middle of the Strip. The Golden Knights lost only 12 games at home in the 2017-18 regular season.
While some teams tried to avoid the Vegas Flu-like symptoms, others suggested that teams shouldn’t let the game stop them from having fun.
Then-Columbus Blue Jackets coach John Tortorella encouraged his team to go out during their singular trip to Vegas in 2018.
“I think when you start trying to treat your players like 10-year-olds, babysit them and don’t allow them to go out and enjoy some of cities they’re in, you’re going down the wrong road. I trust our team,” he said. “It’s Vegas. I know that. But I trust our team. I hope they have fun. But I hope they’re ready to play when we drop the puck on Tuesday.”
Tortorella went on to suggest that playing guilty was a time-honored part of the sport.
“You know me, I want them to go out,” he said. “I think playing guilty is a big part of being a really good player in the National Hockey League. We don’t do that anymore. Heaven forbid. We have agents, and their whole entourage making sure you drink that carrot juice, and all this stuff You can’t have a beer, that’s going to dehydrate you.
“What’s great about our game is let them have a little fun. Let us have some personality. That’s what’s happened. We’ve taken a lot of personality out of the game.”
Over time, Vegas’ dominance in their own barn has mellowed. Since 2021-22, the Golden Knights’ fortunes have flipped: they hold a better record on the road than at home. Perhaps playing in Las Vegas has turned out to be a double-edged sword.
Even if teams have found a cure for the Vegas Flu, it hasn’t stopped the Golden Knights’ spectacular year. Eichel and his teammates can clinch the Western Conference if they get at least one point in their final game Thursday night.
Screenshot: Pat McAfee Show
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