The roots of professional hockey in Las Vegas arrived in 1993 when the father and son duo of Hank and Ken Stickney brought the Las Vegas Thunder to the city, as an International Hockey League expansion team. Many thought they were crazy to have hockey in the desert but they knew Las Vegas was ready when the puck dropped on October 15, 1993 in front of a sold out Thomas & Mack Center.
The task of recruiting players for an expansion team is no easy feat, but the Stickney’s had the right ace up their sleeve when they brought in Bob Strumm, a well-respected, experienced hockey coach and scout with a knack of seeing and ability to sign amazing talent. Including up and coming players 17-year-old Radek Bonk and 20-year-old Ruslan Salei – both later becoming top 10 overall draft picks in the NHL.
With the start of the team’s inaugural season so began the obvious indication that Las Vegas had potential for a large hockey fan-base. On average the team drew more than 8,000 fans a game to see Strumm’s roster and inaugural Head Coach, Butch Goring’s team. In its first year of existence, the Thunder had the best record in the league winning the Huber Trophy and a division title. The Huber Trophy was awarded annually by the International League Hockey to the North American ice hockey team with the most points during the regular season. A feat they would repeat again in year three under Strumm and Head Coach, Chris McSorley.
Throughout team’s history several notable NHL players would wear the Las Vegas Thunder jersey including NHL stars such as Clint Malarchuk, Curtis Joseph, Petr Nedved, Alexei Yashin, Rod Buskas and Brent Gretzky.
It wasn’t just the NHL names that fans clamored to see. Franchise player Patrice Lefebvre, who holds the record for all-time games played for the team had a formidable fan base along with many other long-time team members; Joe Day, Darcy Loewen, Ken Quinney, Jeff Sharples, Rhett Trombley and the first female professional hockey player, goaltender Manon Rhéaume just to name a few; many remained in Las Vegas following their playing days.
The Thunder was ahead of its time and knew the importance of entertaining in the Entertainment Capital of the World and that meant giving fans an incredible production to go along with the action on the ice. They did not disappoint, from start to finish a Thunder game was a full sensory experience. It all started with the team taking to the ice to the unmistakable sound of AC/DCs “Thunderstruck” blaring throughout the Thomas & Mack Center. The starting line-up introductions included the players skating through pyrotechnics with teal laser shows and ambient fog from the base of a giant slot machine displaying three large Thunder logos. Once the puck dropped fans were entertained with videos and music like one finds at a rock concert, while the loveable and playful polar bear mascot Boom Boom would amp up the energy leading the passionate fans, choreograph dances, surf the Zamboni and of course his infamous t-shirt tosses from the ice between periods.
The Las Vegas Thunder proved that Las Vegas was a hockey city and the Stickney’s quest to bring hockey to the desert, truly paved the way for the future success of professional hockey in Las Vegas.
Claim to Fame: Paved the way for professional hockey in Las Vegas. Huber Trophy League Champions in first year of existence and twice in their first 3 years.