October One, From Arda Ocal

The Vegas Golden Knights are doing a lot of things right, on and off the ice.

The team is 3-0, the first time ever that an expansion team has won three straight to start their first season. James Neal has like 470% of VGK’s goals. Marc-Andre Fleury is solid in net.

The team is setting the bar for entertainment (including Cirque Du freaking Soleil being the first intermission performance at game 1) and social media (many fans already rank their Twitter account as the funniest account in all of sports).

But it was the pre-game ceremony that really left an impression on the hockey world.

The events of 10 days prior, ‘October One,’ were still fresh in the minds of those in Las Vegas, Americans, and hockey fans. The franchise promised that though this was the first home game in franchise history, this was ‘not about them.’ No ads were seen on the boards, only “Vegas Strong.” Every fan in the arena received a Vegas strong rally towel as well.

The pre-game ceremony began with a video showing the first responders, standing tall, defiant, in the wake of tragedy.

These first responders were also in the arena, announced one by one by the Golden Knights public address announcer. EMT’s, RN’s, firefighters, doctors, police officers. The announcer added a terrific subtlety as he announced their names, as if they were the home team. He gave their names an extra emphasis, even more so than the Golden Knights players that accompanied them.

Survivors of the tragedy joined owner Bill Foley at center ice for the ceremonial puck drop. Then, the Arizona Coyotes joined the Golden Knights for the national anthem, standing behind them, in a show of #VegasStrong (just like the Dallas Stars had done in Dallas on Friday).

The arena observed 58 seconds of silence for each life lost during the shooting. The arena was so quiet, you could hear the camera shutters of the professional photographers capturing the moment on the broadcast.

At the 59th second, a graphic appeared on the ice that read “Vegas Strong” with the names of all 58 victims.

Deryk Engelland then took the microphone to address the crowd, admitting later in the broadcast that he initially hesitated to do so, but thought it was best. Engelland, a long time Vegas resident, said that he met his wife in Vegas and his kids were born in Vegas. He thanked the first responders and grieved with the victims and their families, stating “We are Vegas Strong.”

The Golden Knights succeeded in presenting one of the most touching and fitting ceremonies in recent hockey memory. Classy, indeed.

This ceremony particularly hit home for me, as I was at the Mandalay Bay as the horrific events unfolded in that hotel, after attending a Golden Knights preseason game.

Here is my account:

(Parts of this account appeared in a printed edition of the Toronto Sun newspaper on Sunday, October 8th)

“Plan the parade on Freemont street!”

That’s what my buddy Mikey yelled after the Vegas Golden Knights scored a goal against the San Jose Sharks. It’s a time-tested hockey joke. Whenever a team scores a goal, proclaim that team is going to win the Stanley Cup and begin the planning of the championship parade immediately. Even if it’s still the preseason like it was.

We met friends at the game, wearing Vancouver Canucks colors. One of them had on an unmistakable bright yellow jersey, the ‘V’ jersey as they are affectionately called. You could spot that jersey a mile away.

After the game, we sauntered over to an Irish Pub. I had the ribeye pasta, not a combination I’m used to seeing on a menu, so I thought, “Why not?” What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas.

Soon after, we wandered around the seemingly endless winding corridors of stores between hotels. As we walked into the Mandalay Bay, we saw drops of red liquid on the ground. We immediately joked that someone lost valuable red wine, “what a shame to lose alcohol like that!”

As we went down the escalator towards the main lobby, we saw a lineup of police officers. This didn’t seem out of the ordinary. After all, officers are seen everywhere in Sin City. As we approached the entrance, one officer told us we couldn’t go outside. Something was happening. We weren’t told what. We assumed that it might have been a medical emergency. Maybe someone drank too much. Maybe there was an altercation. Maybe that wine back there was actually blood from a fight?

We made our way back upstairs, trying to figure out where to go next. Another nightclub? What about an arcade bar? That would be fun. We’re big into video games, we could spend hours trying to beat each other at NBA Jam…

“Gentlemen, you cannot walk any further”, said a security guard.

“Why not?” we inquired.

“There is an active shooter situation in progress.”

The next 5 seconds felt like an hour. Thoughts swirled in my head. A what? Is this a joke? A shooter, like with a real gun? Is there more than one? Where are they? Is one behind us right now? Where should we go?

“The best course of action is to stay here and look for safety,” the same security guard advised.

We began to backpedal. Some people around us ran to a nearby food court and hid under tables. A few opened the doors of a movie theater and locked it behind them. A group of men scurried into the women’s bathroom, thinking the shooter would never think to look in there.

I just kept spinning. My mind was spinning, but I was physically spinning. Trying to look everywhere just in case someone with a gun was running towards us. We looked for any children or disabled persons who might have needed extra help. Everything seemed under control for now.

Moments later, the doors we were trying to go through earlier burst open. Dozens of people, terror on their faces, running for their lives. They whisked past me. Eyes wide, some crying. A mother was holding her child, fleeing as fast as she could.

In this moment we could only assume that there was a gunman behind them.

We ran with them. A security guard caught our attention and urged us to run towards the parking lot.

We went down a set of escalators and walked into a closed aisleway towards the parking lot. Looking down, more drops of blood. This time it was unmistakable. It was fresh, like it had dripped from a wound seconds earlier.

We made it to the open parking lot. There were about 30 of us now, in a group. That’s where we first saw the footage. A man pulled out his phone and showed us a video on social media. We saw Jason Aldean playing on stage, then pop-pop-pop-pop-pop-pop. At first, it sounded like it was part of the show, perhaps a fireworks display that went off too early. Then, a couple of screams. Aldeen and his band leave the stage. The camera cuts back to people on the ground, lying still. One man is administering CPR.

Before we had time to think about how this could have happened, another security guard rushed towards us.


He went on to explain that the Mandalay Bay was right behind us, in full view. What he knew was there was an active shooter on a higher floor of the Mandalay Bay, possibly on the 30th floor or the roof, and could see us congregated in a group and open fire. We needed to disperse immediately.

A few people ran and ducked behind some cars, some under them. We decided to walk away from Mandalay Bay, hoping it was only one shooter. We didn’t know if that was the best idea, maybe it was, but we did know we wanted to be as far away from that area as possible.

Especially because one of them had on an unmistakable bright yellow jersey, the ‘V’ jersey as they are affectionately called. You could spot that jersey a mile away.

Police sirens filled the air and a helicopter’s circled high above as we walked down a ramp, away from the building. We made sure to have whatever buildings we could between us and Mandalay Bay, getting more at ease the further we got. We decided to walk back towards T-Mobile Arena, where we had been earlier, to see if we could hail a taxi. We thought maybe cabs wouldn’t be picking anyone up at the moment, because of the high risk.

As we walked at our hurried pace, we noticed a lot of people stopped, almost unphased, taking video. As if, perhaps, something was going to unfold in front of them. I wondered in that moment if that was all worth it. Maybe that’s just part of the job. There were many reporters in high-risk areas as well. I couldn’t help but think of how they must have felt, needing to go in when everybody else is wanting to get out.

We got lucky and one cab stopped. As we got in, he was hearing all the news on his CV radio. He looked at us and said, “you guys are my last fare, I’m going home.”

Finally into safety, I update everyone and am checking Twitter and the local news for updates. The death toll rises from two, to 20, to 50. Hundreds injured. The south side of the strip is completely shut down. I cannot believe I was right there. How close was I to the shooter(s)? How close did I come to getting shot tonight?

LAS VEGAS, NV – OCTOBER 3: A message of condolences for the victims of Sunday night’s mass shooting is displayed outside the MGM Grand Hotel & Casino, October 3, 2017 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Late Sunday night, a lone gunman killed over 50 people and injured over 500 people after he opened fire on a large crowd at the Route 91 Harvest country music festival. The massacre is one of the deadliest mass shooting events in U.S. history. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

I call my fiancee to let her know I’m OK, she had been asleep and didn’t know what was going on. Friends and family start messaging, making sure I’m not hurt. A few affiliate networks across the country and internationally ask for interviews. This is all so surreal. I came to Vegas to host an esports tournament and somehow ended up in the middle of the largest mass shooting in US history.

Exhausted, I manage to get an hour of sleep. I wake up, checking the news for more news. There was one shooter, he is dead. My flight is still on time, I can go to the airport. Driving towards McCarran International on the highway, we pass by the Mandalay Bay. I get chills thinking of what went down only a couple hours ago.

When I land back in Newark, I get a text message from one of my best friends in a group text. They had been planning my Bachelor party in the next few months. The text read, “I guess we’re not going to Vegas anymore.”

I literally cannot stop thinking about those that were affected on October One. This absolutely leaves a permanent scar in my mind. We got out unharmed, hundreds did not. Good vibes, positive thoughts, prayers. If you can, give blood. Give money. Give time, volunteer. Even when the spotlight fades and the news cycle begins to cover something else, consider those that are left struggling to their new reality. Be great to each other and help however you can.