Bryce Harper’s love affair with his Vegas Golden Knights – and hockey – goes into overtime

It’s the one where he’ll be wearing a gold, black and steel gray uniform,  perhaps a helmet perched on his head as he settles in front of his vast TV.

This is where he’ll be watching his beloved Vegas Golden Knights hockey team play Game 3 of their Stanley Cup Western Conference finals at T-Mobile Arena against the Winnipeg Jets, the best-of-seven series tied at 1-1, with Harper wondering how much more his heart can take it.

“I get more nervous watching them than anything I’ve ever done in my life,’’ Harper tells USA TODAY Sports, “even playing ball. I don’t get nervous watching my team or when I play at all. I really don’t.

“But when I’m watching them, I get so nervous. I’ll sit on the couch with my wife, going nuts.

“It’s unreal.’’

The Golden Knights, vying to become the first expansion team in a major sport to win a championship in its inaugural season, and already the first hockey team to reach the playoffs in its first year in nearly 40 years, are just three victories shy of going where nobody in their right mind believed they would reach.

Yes, the Stanley Cup Finals.

Forget the 1980 U.S. Olympic Team; maybe the Golden Knights are the unlikeliest miracle on ice.

No one gave them a prayer this season – an NHL-worst 500-to-1 longshot to win the Stanley Cup – except for this certain 25-year-old who happens to be one of the greatest baseball players in the world, and will soon become rich enough to buy his own casino.

“I’m really not surprised,’’ Harper says. “They’re a great team. There’s a lot of guys on that team that have chips on their shoulders because they got let go on other teams they were playing on.

“Look at us. We’ve got one of the best goalies of all-time in our net in (Marc-Andre) Fleury. He was the leader of that team that won three Stanley Cups in Pittsburgh. If we didn’t have a goalie on our team like that, it would definitely be tough. (Wild Bill) Karlsson is having one of the best years of his career. He has six goals in Columbus last year and now has 43 for us.

“We get (Jonathan) Marchessault from the Panthers, and look at the way he’s been playing. Reilly Smith. That whole front line has been unbelievable. Deryk Engelland and Schmidty (Nate Schmidt) coming from the Caps. James Neal, who was with Pittsburgh and Nashville.

“They’re all just such a great group of guys. Just a bunch of really cool dudes who are fast and quick and put the puck into the net. I could go on and on.’’

The Golden Knights have taken Las Vegas by storm, and, oh, can you tell who has caught hockey fever?

Harper and his wife, Kayla, don’t even have kids yet, but Harper already has chosen the sport he wants them to play.

“I’ve fallen in love with hockey,’’ Harper says. “When we have kids, I want them to play hockey. How awesome would that be? I can’t imagine being on the ice and playing such a cool sport.’’

Harper has become Barry Melrose without the colorful high-fashion outfits, soaking up as much hockey knowledge as he can these days. Do you know any other professional athlete who attended virtually every Golden Knights home game during the winter, wearing their jerseys at every opportunity, and occasionally wearing a helmet watching them on his living room couch?

 Do you know any other ballplayer who drops in on their practices, sends dozens of autographed bats with the Golden Knights logo to their locker room, drops the puck against the Washington Caps wearing an Alex Tuch jersey, and is already tentatively planning to see them if they’re playing in the Stanley Cup Finals on a May 24 off day?

 “It’s the first team I really had a passion rooting for,’’ says Harper, born and raised in Las Vegas, and, yes, blessed with the ability to ice skate. “Growing up, I didn’t really root for many teams. I always liked the Lakers. Liked Dallas in football.

“But those are all the winning teams. Even baseball, I’d get home and watch the Braves on Turner, or the Cubs on WGN, right after “Full House’’ and “Family Matters.’’

“But now, I can’t get enough of them. I watch them religiously. I love hockey.’’

Who’d ever have imagined that Las Vegas would become a hockey town, with every game sold out? Really, it’s the gateway to the gambling capital of the USA turning into a sports mecca.

READ FULL STORY: https://www.usatoday.com/story/sports/mlb/columnist/bob-nightengale/2018/05/15/bryce-harper-vegas-golden-knights-hockey/611030002/

 


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