The Vegas Golden Knights and Washington Capitals combined for 62 shots, shots, shots, shots, shots in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final on Monday night, but before the opening puck drop, a local entertainer and long-time hockey fan kicked off the festivities.
Jonathan Smith, more commonly known as rapper Lil Jon, performed outside T-Mobile Arena prior to the start of the series. It’s a common sight for Golden Knights fans; Smith, who has residency in Las Vegas, has been a fixture during Vegas’ inaugural NHL season supporting the expansion franchise.
As Smith performed his 2013 hit “Turn Down for What” he led the crowd outside the arena in a “Go Knights, go” chant, setting the stage for another elaborate, theatrical pregame ceremony.
“I’m a resident in Vegas as far as working, so I’m here every week,,” Smith said to NBC’s Kathryn Tappen during an intermission interview. “This team is not just for Vegas, for people that are born in Vegas and live here, but also for people that work here all of the time. This city is a part of us as well.
“I love the team and I’m here to support. I’m just so happy for these guys.”
The #StanleyCup got a front row seat as @LilJon and @travisbarker fired up the crowd before Game 1 of the Final. pic.twitter.com/Tjyv3fhoo9
— NHL Public Relations (@PR_NHL) May 28, 2018
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Tappen quickly pointed out that Smith is not new to the NHL rink. An Atlanta native, Smith said he grew up rooting for the since-relocated Atlanta Flames (now the Calgary Flames) before turning his attention to the since-relocated Thrashers.
“Later on when I was an adult I used to take my son to the Atlanta Thrashers game, and that’s when I really kind of got back into hockey again,” Smith said. “The league kind of noticed that I had interest in the game, and they started to show me a lot of love.”
2006: The Flames/Thrashers days
Smith grew up in Atlanta, so being a Flames fan was a natural fit. At least until 1980, when the team relocated to Calgary when Smith was nine years old.
But 19 years later, Atlanta got an NHL franchise back when the expansion Thrashers opened shop. Here’s Smith in 2006 sitting on the glass of a Thrashers-Rangers game. You know you’re a devoted fan when you wear the jersey of the previously relocated franchise from the city.
While those Thrashers never won a Stanley Cup and reached the playoffs just once in their 11 years spent in the South, it didn’t stop Smith from getting to enjoy hockey’s most important trophy. Here’s Smith at club b.e.d. in 2006 posing with Lord Stanley, holding his signature “Crunk Juice” goblet.
The Thrashers eventually moved to Winnipeg after the 2010-11 season, but if Smith had his way, the team would have remained in in Atlanta. It led to rumors that Smith was considering making a financial investment and purchasing a stake of the team, though he later shot down those talks.
“That’s a lot of money to buy a professional hockey team,” he said. “I’ll help them out with some awareness, though.”
2012: In need of a hockey home
After the Thrashers relocated to Winnipeg, Smith became something of a hockey migrant. It began in Montreal, where he posed for pictures with Canadiens players, including all-star defenseman P.K. Subban.
@LilJon NEW Habs lucky charm! Thanks for the support!…WHAT?? I said thanks for the support! … OK!!!!! Haha #beauty pic.twitter.com/lOnWZRD8
— P.K. Subban (@PKSubban1) February 8, 2012
Like many entertainers, Smith’s music career took him out west, where he lived in Los Angeles for a number of years. In 2008, he was photographed taking in a Kings-Blue Jackets game.
2017: A Golden fan
Now with his work life taking him to Las Vegas — like many hockey fans who call the city home — Smith jumped onto the Golden Knights train as soon as it parked in the station.
Have no fear, though — there’s visual evidence that Smith got in on the ground floor and is not a bandwagon fan of the franchise that has yet to turn a year old.
Count em’ up:) pic.twitter.com/cKqfcJ7lJj
— Vegas Golden Knights (@GoldenKnights) October 28, 2017
“Vegas shows me a lot of love. I’ve been coming to Vegas for so many years working in Vegas, so many years I might as well live here,” Smith said during an intermission show when the Golden Knights improved to 7-0-0 early in the regular season.
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He again detailed the origins of his fanhood in that interview and explained one of the most interesting images from that Stanley Cup photo shoot from 2006, one with Lord Stanley riding shotgun with the top down.
“They let me put the Stanley Cup in my car,” Smith said. “I got hookups. I got connects.”
Now, like many Vegas hockey fans, Smith can taste a championship, three victories away from pulling off the improbable feat in this the franchise’s first season.
“It’s been awesome. Every time I’m in the arena, there’s so much energy in this place. I’m glad you guys are able to come and experience hockey in Vegas like this,” Smith told Tappen during intermission Monday night. “This is how we do it in Vegas. It’s always crazier in Vegas, and for these guys, they fought their butts off all year to get here to the Stanley Cup Final, and I’m just so happy for them, the team, and the city.”
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