Biden honors Stanley Cup champion Vegas Golden Knights in the return of an NHL tradition

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WASHINGTON (AP) — President Joe Biden joked about ignoring his sagging poll numbers in Nevada and thanked the NHL's Vegas Golden Knights for their role in helping the city recover from the 2017 mass shooting when he honored them Monday at a White House ceremony for winning the Stanley Cup.

Taking a brief respite from world events, Biden marveled at a hockey team that plays in the desert celebrating a championship and shined a spotlight not only on the Golden Knights' on-ice accomplishments but the organization's work in the community, most notably in the aftermath of the Oct. 1, 2017, shooting on the Las Vegas Strip.

“Showing up for victims’ families, survivors, first responders — in fact, your championship ring honors them,” Biden said. “The diamonds on your rings form a star: the same star on the banner that you raised that honored 58 people who were lost on that day. You guys are something else.”

Players said politics never came up in their private meeting with Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris, adding most of the conversation was about how they won the franchise's first title. This visit was the first by an NHL team since the Tampa Bay Lightning in April 2022, when they celebrated their back-to-back titles won during the pandemic in 2020 and '21.

The 2022 champion Colorado Avalanche were unable to visit last season because of scheduling conflicts.

“We hope to be able to do it again," Vegas coach Bruce Cassidy said. “But you never know. May be a once in a lifetime.”

A couple of players have done this before: American defenseman Alec Martinez, who won the Cup with Los Angeles in 2012 and '14, was honored by Barack Obama, and Canadian Alex Pietrangelo, who captained St. Louis to a title in 2019 and took part in a ceremony with Donald Trump.

Vegas has those players and a vast majority of its roster back from last season and with 12 wins in 15 games is off to one of the best starts for a reigning champion in league history. Cassidy thinks the continuity makes this season feel a bit like an extension of that success, and more winning added a brighter shine to the festivities.

“It makes days like today more enjoyable,” playoff leading scorer Jack Eichel said. “It’s been a good start to our season. Obviously want to continue doing that, but, yeah, it’s a celebration of what we accomplished last year and then we’re back to work.”

The Golden Knights actually practiced Monday, a rarity for teams following a White House visit. But the schedule set up that way given the cross-country travel preceding the start of a five-game road trip that opens with a game against the Washington Capitals on Tuesday night.

It's also back to work for Biden, who's campaigning for reelection next year and quipped of Nevada having “the polling data I’m not paying much attention to.” He also is dealing with the Israel-Hamas war and and is set to travel to San Francisco for a meeting later this week with Chinese President Xi Jinping.

“Obviously, there’s a lot more important things on hand for him to do," Martinez said. “So, to take a little bit of time out of their day to allow us to have this experience is pretty special.”

Team captain Mark Stone, who is Canadian, delivered remarks after Biden spoke, calling Las Vegas the entertainment capital of the world and contrasting it with the president's home state of Delaware. He got emotional at times and shook off nerves that overwhelmed someone used to playing hockey in front of sellout crowds of 20,000.

“It was probably the most nervous I’ve ever been," Stone said. “Speaking in Vegas (at the parade), I think I’d had a few drinks, so it was a little bit easier to do that one. But with the president standing a couple steps over, it was definitely pretty nerve-wracking.”

Biden pointed out it was the second visit by a Las Vegas team this fall, after Harris honored the WNBA champion Aces. They'll be back after winning another title, the NFL's Raiders have won two in a row, the area is hosting a Formula One race this weekend and a Major League Baseball team is on the way pending approval of the Oakland Athletics moving to Las Vegas.

"You’re proving Vegas sports is one of the best shows in town,” Biden said.

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AP NHL: https://apnews.com/hub/NHL