WHITEFISH — The Vegas Golden Knights, the NHL’s new franchise set to debut this season, toured the Rocky Mountains last week, introducing the team and some of its players to a prospective fan base.
The road trip was a homecoming of sorts as Bill Foley and Murray Craven celebrated the team’s creation in this corner of Montana, where the franchise was formed in many ways.
“It feels great to be here,” Foley said last week at a free youth event featuring two Golden Knights players at Stumptown Ice Den. “My vision was to make us the team of the Rockies and we are … We are Montana’s hockey team.”
Though based in the Vegas desert, the Golden Knights have roots in the mountains of Montana.
Over the last few years, Foley, the franchise’s owner, developed the finer points of his new professional sports team from his part-time home of Whitefish, where he spends his summer months managing a business empire that includes Whitefish Mountain Resort, Glacier Restaurant Group and Rock Creek Cattle Company, just a few of his many successful business interests.
To build the expansion team, Foley enlisted the help of close friend and fellow Whitefish resident Murray Craven, a former NHL player who has lived here for several years and helped grow local hockey, including spearheading a fundraising effort a decade ago to enclose Stumptown Ice Den.
Foley named Craven the Golden Knights’ vice president.
“Murray is a very practical, smart guy. He’s a really good down-to-Earth guy and he’s a good friend,” Foley said. “He’s done a great job.”
Among his duties, Craven oversaw the development of the Golden Knights’ practice facility in Vegas. It features some familiar local flavor — MacKenzie River Pizza, Grill and Pub, a flagship of the Glacier Restaurant Group, is the official restaurant at the facility and will serve as the team’s caterer.
“It’s great exposure for MacKenzie,” said Foley, who predicted that a few stand-alone restaurants would also pop up in Vegas.
Foley said he hopes Montana develops a close connection to the Knights. It will help that the team secured a deal with AT&T SportsNet to televise games across Montana, Nevada, Idaho, Wyoming and Utah and select areas in Arizona and California.
“It was important to us to have that community outreach and come up here to Whitefish and bring a couple players,” Foley said, gesturing to Jake Bischoff and Alex Tuch, a pair of budding Golden Knights stars who participated in a clinic with local kids at Stumptown.
“Next year when we come here, hopefully we will see all Golden Knights gear,” Foley said. “We will be in Whitefish every year because of the connection the team has to Whitefish.”
Craven has an even bigger dream for Whitefish.
“I’d like to have training camp here,” he said last week.
As the season approaches and the Golden Knights prepare for their inaugural campaign, Craven is also excited to sit back in his home in Whitefish and watch hockey.
“This summer has been extra chaotic,” he said. “At the same, I’ll be able to look back on the experience. Not many people get to live through that and put together a team from scratch.”
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