LAS VEGAS (KTNV) — Hockey is a sport steeped in tradition. The NHL has been around for over 100 years and individual teams have their own traditions, including our own Vegas Golden Knights.
The Golden Knights are not the first fanbase to throw a strange item on the ice when their team wins. In Detroit, fans occasionally throw a dead octopus. In Nashville, they throw dead catfish. Here in Las Vegas, we throw plastic flamingos. And it's all thanks to a VGK super fan named Drew Johnson.
The last time 13 Action News talked to Johnson was in 2018. Hockey had just arrived in Las Vegas and no one had ever heard of COVID-19. The Golden Knights were gaining popularity, but the team lacked tradition. Until March of 2018, during a home game against the Calgary Flames, when Johnson introduced The Fortress to its first flamingo.
"The game was really close and Colin Miller scored and I threw the flamingo, hoping that it would create some more good vibes and kind of rally the team. And after that, we went on to just dominate the rest of the game. Fleury had a shutout and Karlsson had a hat trick, so it ended up being one of the best wins of the year. And I like to think that throwing a plastic flamingo on the ice had a little something to do with that," said Johnson with a chuckle.
Almost immediately, the city and social media fell in love with the flamingo. But the question still remained...why a plastic flamingo?
"I wanted the tradition that was created here to mimic those traditions in Detroit and Nashville but to not include dead animals. So that's kind of what started the flamingo. It's obviously kitchy, it's fun. We've got Flamingo Road, the Flamingo Hotel and Casino. But more than anything, it's just bright, it's easy to throw, it's fun. It's something that kids can bring to the arena and throw on the ice. And so I thought it really encapsulated Vegas in a cool way, without throwing a dead animal on the ice," said Johnson.
Soon, the victory flamingo became a flock of flamingos, raining down on the ice after every VGK win, including occasionally on the road.
"To see a flamingo in Ottawa, or some of these places I've never seen a game at, it's really, really neat to know that it sort of extends so much further than just some dopey middle-aged guy throwing a plastic flamingo on the ice," said Johnson.
Even the players will get in on the flamingo fun, often tapping them in the net or parading off the ice with them after a big win.
"It's great seeing people dress up like flamingos. It's awesome to see merchandise that the team sells with the flamingo on it. But my favorite moments are the players interacting and giving back to the fans a little bit by playing with a pink, plastic flamingo," said Johnson.
Now in the franchise's fifth season, and with fans back in The Fortress, Johnson says he's excited to see the team and the flamingos fly to new heights.
"I think the sky's the limit with how many flamingos we can get on the ice and how the team and the players embrace the flamingo tradition. So yeah, it continues to grow and it's certainly gone beyond what I ever imagined it would be," said Johnson.
Johnson says his ultimate dream is to one day see the victory flamingo take a bath in the bowl of the Stanley Cup. He says he has a good feeling this is the year.