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Carp: Chandler Stephenson Is Ryan Carpenter 2.0

**Southern Nevada Sports Hall of Famer, Steve Carp’s returns to for the 2019-20 season. His weekly column publishes every Sunday during the Golden Knights season and is brought to you by the Jimmerson Law Firm.**

When the Golden Knights traded for Chandler Stephenson earlier this month, my initial reaction was: “O.K.”

I wasn’t overwhelmed by the move nor was I disappointed, given what the Knights gave up to the Washington Capitals to get the fleet forward — a fifth-round draft pick in 2021. What I knew was the team was lacking depth in its bottom-six forwards and Brandon Pirri and Nicolas Roy didn’t seem to be figuring in the team’s plans in the immediate future.

Valentin Zykov? I also didn’t think he was part of the Golden Knights’ future. So snagging Stephenson seemed like a “nothing ventured, nothing gained” kind of move. If it worked out, great. If it didn’t, at some point Cody Eakin would be back and he would reclaim his spot.

But then Cody Glass got hurt against the Rangers on Dec. 8, courtesy of a Brendan Lemieux elbow to the head. He likely has a concussion or symptoms of one and who knows when he’ll be back on the ice? There was no update on Glass’ status or Eakin’s prior to Sunday’s game against Vancouver at T-Mobile Arena.

(Photo Credit: Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

Suddenly, Stephenson has become a more valuable commodity. The Knights recalled Zykov from the Chicago Wolves and put him on the third line. Stephenson, who has played with virtually everyone so far in his brief stint in Vegas, is centering for Max Pacioretty and Mark Stone on the Knights’ second line and the trio appear to be clicking. Both Stone and Pacioretty have registered points in three straight games while working with Stephenson.

Part of it is when you’re playing with two talented wingers, it forces you to elevate your game. Part of it is Stephenson has his own solid skills — he’s an excellent skater, has a good hockey I.Q. and he has quickly picked up Vegas’ system.

The other part of the equation is he’s an NHL veteran. This is his fifth season in the league and he’s just 25 years old. He understands how to play at this level. He has kept things simple and not tried to overthink the situation, regardless of who he has been paired with by Gerard Gallant.

It’s been good. Obviously when I first came here, meeting a whole new team, that’s something I’d never experienced before. But knowing Schmitty (Nate Schmidt) and Nabber (Brayden McNabb) here obviously helped. With the group that’s here, it’s a very welcoming group. Everybody made me feel at home right away and made me feel like I was part of the team. It was an easy transition. -Stephenson

With his skills and his versatility, Stephenson reminds me of another Golden Knight who was obtained in December and turned out to be an important cog in the team’s run to the Stanley Cup Final their inaugural season.

Remember when George McPhee plucked Ryan Carpenter off waivers from San Jose? No one thought much of the move at the time. He was a decent player who wasn’t getting much ice time with the Sharks.

Carpenter turned out to be a reliable, versatile player, someone who could play anywhere, kill penalties, be on the ice late in games to help protect a one-goal lead and was good in the locker room and was liked by his teammates.

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Carp: Malcolm Subban Has Won Me Over

**Southern Nevada Sports Hall of Famer, Steve Carp’s returns to for the 2019-20 season. His weekly column publishes every Sunday during the Golden Knights season and is brought to you by the Jimmerson Law Firm.**

I’m not going to lie. I didn’t think Malcolm Subban was the Golden Knights’ answer as Marc-Andre Fleury’s backup.

I had concerns about his durability. I wasn’t sure if he had the technical side of things down. And I wasn’t convinced he was reliable.

And for the first two years, I think I was right. Subban had shown a propensity for getting hurt. He let in a lot of soft goals. And his record wasn’t the greatest.

But I had to remind myself he’s still only 25. Goalies take longer to develop. And I have never questioned his work ethic or his commitment to his craft.

(Photo Credit: Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

Still, this is a results-driven business. He knows that. So when Fleury left the team for 10 days to deal with the death of his father in Montreal, here was Subban’s chance to prove to doubters like myself he does indeed deserve to be part of the Golden Knights’ present, and, perhaps more importantly, their future.

Watching him perform the last two weeks, I came away with the vision that Subban is making progress. He is showing a good compete level between the pipes. He is coming up big when he needs to and the soft goals he had been allowing in the past were less frequent.

I also think he was aided by the fact that the guys in front of him are playing better, particularly his defensemen. Nic Hague is developing well and I like the pairing of Hague with Shea Theodore. Brayden McNabb and Nate Schmidt seem to have recaptured their chemistry playing alongside each other and Deryk Engelland’s game has picked up noticeably the last three weeks.

Perhaps it’s due in part to the changes in philosophy when it comes to defending as the Knights have used more of a zone than a man-to-man coverage in their end. Maybe it’s a confidence thing. But the Knights have allowed just 16 goals in their last six games and Subban has had a hand in that.

He also appeared to be gaining the trust of his coach and his teammates.

Subby’s been terrific. He’s given us a chance every night. -Gerard Gallant

You can see his confidence growing every game. You see the way he moves the puck, the way he’s talking to guys back there. He’s starting to settle in and he’s more comfortable. When you’re playing with confidence, you feel like you can take on the world and he’s been awesome for us. It was an awful circumstance that happened (to Fleury) but he stepped in, took advantage of it and he made some big saves for us. -Nate Schmidt

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Carp: Knights Will Be Tested On Big Apple Road Trip

**Southern Nevada Sports Hall of Famer, Steve Carp’s returns to for the 2019-20 season. His weekly column publishes every Sunday during the Golden Knights season and is brought to you by the Jimmerson Law Firm.**

NEW YORK — When the NHL schedule came out last July and the Golden Knights were on the docket for three games in the New York metropolitan area, two things jumped out at me:

One, the Knights were going to have to go to Long Island for the first time when they played the Islanders on Dec. 5 after playing in Brooklyn the first two seasons.

Two, this was a trip I wanted to try and make.

Second things first. I’m here amid the cold, the rain and the snow for the entire week. And yes, the game at Nassau Coliseum Thursday became the toughest of the three, which you couldn’t say was the case back in July.

My initial thought was the Devils game Tuesday in Newark would be the toughest for Vegas. New Jersey had significantly upgraded its roster. It had the No. 1 overall draft pick in Jack Hughes. Hell, the Devs even snagged Nikita Gusev from the Knights and there was a lot of hand-wringing among the SinBinners that Gusev was going to emerge as a superstar in Jersey and replace Filip Forsberg as George McPhee’s biggest gaffe as a hockey executive.

The Rangers? They’re on a youth kick, though veteran center Mika Zibanejad has had some nice games against the Knights. Still, the Knights had won in Madison Square Garden before and they figured to put enough offensive pressure against the Blueshirts’ defense corps and get a couple pucks past Henrik Lundqvist (if he plays), or more likely Alexandar Georgiev. Plus a matchup between the pipes of The King vs. Marc-Andre Fleury, both of who are headed to the Hall of Fame, would be worth the flight to the Big Apple.

As for the Islanders, I thought they would regress after last year’s amazing turnaround, especially losing goalie Robin Lehner, who was nothing short of outstanding. Of the three games, I thought this would be the best chance for the Knights to pick up two points on the trip.

That was my thought process back in July. Obviously, things have unfolded quite a bit differently since to change my mind.

The Devils may be the NHL’s biggest disappointment. The Rangers are inconsistent and despite having a winning record, struggle to finish games.

The Islanders? They figure to be the toughest opponent on the Knights’ three-game roadie which begins Monday at Madison Square Garden with the Rangers and continues Tuesday in Newark against the Devils. And not just because they’re currently the best of the three teams the Knights will face, their building is a bitch to play in.

Mat Barzal, the Isles’ all-star center, said while the team has had success both in Brooklyn and at the Coliseum, he admits the vibe is a little different at the place Islander fans call “Fort Neverlose.”

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Carp: Time To Shake Things Up Again?

**Southern Nevada Sports Hall of Famer, Steve Carp’s returns to for the 2019-20 season. His weekly column publishes every Sunday during the Golden Knights season and is brought to you by the Jimmerson Law Firm.**

When Gerard Gallant decided recently that he needed to shake up his lines in order to snap the Golden Knights out of their collective funk during a five-game losing streak, I understood where he was coming from.

Sometimes a change of playing partners gets a player going. Your game becomes more focused out of necessity because your comfort level with your linemates hasn’t been established.

Moving Cody Eakin up to the second line to play with Jonathan Marchessault and Mark Stone, dropping Paul Stastny down to the third line, playing Max Pacioretty with William Karlsson and Reilly Smith and having Shea Theodore share the blue line with rookie Nic Hague seemed extreme on the surface and you may have thought it smacked of desperation on Gallant’s part.

(Photo Credit: Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

But the moves did reap some dividends. Eakin woke up from his season-long funk with a couple of goals. Stone also regained his scoring touch briefly. Pacioretty continued his high-level play and seemed to work well with Karlsson.

The Knights opened a four-game homestand with a pair of wins over Calgary and Toronto, though Marc-Andre Fleury needed to bail them out in both wins with spectacular third-period saves to snap the five-game losing streak. They played well enough to beat San Jose but once again came up short in the 3-on-3 overtime, an issue that needs to be addressed sooner than later.

However, there was a common thread to those three games: the Knights played with purpose and with effort and they came away with points on each occasion.

Such was not the case Saturday night at T-Mobile Arena.

In a game where Vegas needed to bring it, the Knights allowed the Edmonton Oilers to dictate the terms on the ice and it resulted in a 4-2 loss built around a lackluster effort throughout the lineup.

Gallant was none too happy about it afterward and you shouldn’t be happy either. This was a four-point game against the division leader. You were at home. Your crowd was engaged, as always, and this is what happens?

Well it starts with effort. The biggest thing is effort, then the execution works. So, the execution wasn’t there tonight, I agree 100 percent, but it’s got to start with competing and battling and winning those battles and playing to get your nose dirty a little bit. And it’s not all the guys, it’s some guys. We’ve got to get more of a team game. -Gallant

There’s no excuse for being outworked and the players own this L. Even Fleury, as brilliant as he has been of late, let in a soft goal in the first period as he allowed Ethan Bear’s shot from inside the right circle elude him, a shot he saw all the way but simply whiffed on.

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Carp: The Slump Is Over… For Now

**Southern Nevada Sports Hall of Famer, Steve Carp’s returns to for the 2019-20 season. His weekly column publishes every Sunday during the Golden Knights season and is brought to you by the Jimmerson Law Firm.**

To paraphrase Shakespeare, I had come to T-Mobile Arena to bury the Golden Knights, not to praise them.

But after Sunday’s performance, a 6-0 manhandling of the Calgary Flames, I can do nothing of the sort.

I was ready to lay out my case before you, dear SinBinners, pointing out the obvious shortcomings while trying to come up with not-so-obvious fixes to what was manifesting itself into a serious problem.

Instead, let me quote one George “Spanky” McFarland, who once asked of his pal Scotty in an episode of The Little Rascals and I ask of the Golden Knights: “What took you so long?”

Shakespeare and Spanky. In one column. You don’t get that every day, now do you?

But in all seriousness, what you saw from the Knights Sunday in putting the brakes on the team’s five-game losing streak should give you hope and also leave you wondering why it’s not this way all the time.

The answer is: If it was any one singular thing, it would have been fixed. If it was easy to fix, it would have long since been done by Gerard Gallant.

(Photo Credit: Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

If it wasn’t so damned complicated, you wouldn’t be so damn frustrated, would you? And there would have been no five-game losing streak, would there? They’d have nipped it in the bud early.

But it’s not any one thing. It is complicated. It’s not easy. And your patience had been tested unlike any time in the three years you’ve been watching the Golden Knights.

Sure, they’ve had slumps before. Remember the inaugural season when they lost four in a row in November? You no doubt recall the start to last year. Of course, there were excuses in the form of injuries and suspensions.

But this? This felt different. This latest run of misfortune that perhaps saw its permanent end Sunday was borne not out of excuses but out of frustration and perhaps a dose of reality that maybe, just maybe, this team isn’t as good as everyone thought.

You wanted Cody Eakin gone yesterday. He finally scored and played well on the second line with Mark Stone and Jonathan Marchessault. You wondered what happened to Mark Stone’s goal-scoring touch? Stone finally got off the ziggy and scored for the first time since Halloween.

You’ve been kvetching about William Karlsson. The guy was stellar Sunday with a pair of goals and an assist and has now scored in three straight games. His headman pass to Max Pacioretty on the third goal was brilliant in its simplicity and deadly in its accuracy.

Also, Wild Bill’s great work in the defensive end included a couple of blocked shots that may have prevented the Flames from scoring.

And Nate Schmidt came alive with four assists, skating the puck out of his own end and making smart plays in front of Marc-Andre Fleury, who was steady throughout and spectacular when he needed to be in recording his second shutout of the year following a 34-save performance.

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Carp: Jonny Greco’s Contributions To Golden Knights Etched In Stone

**Southern Nevada Sports Hall of Famer, Steve Carp’s returns to for the 2019-20 season. His weekly column publishes every Sunday during the Golden Knights season and is brought to you by the Jimmerson Law Firm.**

Where to begin?

(Photo Credit: Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

The music. The cheerleaders. The mascots. The pregame and between periods videos. The skits on the ice. The arena hosts and hostess.

The in-game experience at T-Mobile Arena is unmatched in the NHL. I know. I’ve been in every rink and I can tell you for a fact nothing rivals the emotional feeling and the energy that comes once you step inside The Fortress.

Of course, I’m pretty much preaching to the choir here. But the man responsible for most, if not all of it, has decided to move on.

You may recognize the name. A few of you can even place the face. But the handiwork of Jonny Greco is known to all of you because he made sure you were part of it all.

Whether it was the third period exhortation for everyone to yell and clap during an ice maintenance, or singing “Sweet Golden Knights” and “Home Means Nevada” between periods, or having celebrities and fans alike crank up the siren to begin each period, Greco made sure you were and remained engaged, regardless of the score.

And whether you love everything about attending a Golden Knights game or only a small portion of it, you have Greco to thank.

This is from the press release put out by the team back on April 7, 2017 announcing Greco’s hiring:

Las Vegas is the entertainment capital of the world. We recognize and embrace the expectations that come along with playing our games here from a performance perspective. Jonny possesses a unique background that spans multiple professional teams, leagues and sports entertainment entities. His creative vision will help us produce exceptional in-game presentation and entertainment, which will create memorable and enjoyable experiences for our fans. –Kerry Bubolz, Golden Knights president

So when word got out Friday that Greco was leaving the Strip for Broadway (He has reportedly taken a job with Madison Square Garden), it was an end of an era of sorts. But the stamp he las left on the franchise is indelible.

Thinks about this: When was the last time a network, any network, decided to show the pregame show on the air?

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Ref You Suck: Subpar Officiating Hurting NHL’s Image, Integrity

**Southern Nevada Sports Hall of Famer, Steve Carp’s returns to for the 2019-20 season. His weekly column publishes every Sunday during the Golden Knights season and is brought to you by the Jimmerson Law Firm.**

I’m not one to blame officials for the outcome of games. I always believe that you make your own luck in sports. And I have yet to see a referee actually score a touchdown, sink a basket or put a puck in the net.

But when the officiating negatively impacts the outcome of games, you have a credibility problem.

(Photo Credit: Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

We see it in the NFL. We see it in Major League Baseball. We see it in college football and college basketball. And we certainly see it in the NHL.

Every team in the league falls victim to inept officiating and the Golden Knights are obviously not immune. I won’t even go into Game 7. I’ll just give you Exhibits A and B from Saturday’s 4-3 overtime loss to Winnipeg.

Exhibit A was Ryan Gibbons’ waving off icing in the third period which led to the Jets tying the game 3-3. The linesman had initially put his hand up for icing, then had a change of heart and waved it off.

Nate Schmidt, who was in pursuit of the puck and was closest to it as it crossed the goal line, could not have made a play. By rule, the whistle should have blown since there’s no-touch icing in the NHL.

Instead, Schmidt loses an edge, crashes into the end boards, Kyle Connor scoops up the puck and feeds Mark Scheifele, who was alone in front and beats Malcom Subban.

Tie game.

Watch the video. Gibbons has his hand up. The Golden Knights players see it and react the way you normally would as they gear down and look to head to the Winnipeg end for the ensuing faceoff.

Instead, there’s never a whistle, the goal counts and there was nothing Gerard Gallant could do about it. It’s a discretionary call by the linesman and not subject to review.

They didn’t really have an explanation. They knew they made a mistake, bottom line. So, we just moved on. -Gallant

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Carp: The Real Golden Knights Re-appear

**Southern Nevada Sports Hall of Famer, Steve Carp’s returns to for the 2019-20 season. His weekly column publishes every Sunday during the Golden Knights season and is brought to you by the Jimmerson Law Firm.**

It’s rare I get to write live after a Golden Knights game. But when there’s a Sunday late afternoon affair, I try to take advantage of it.

Obviously, the Knights needed to make a 180-degree turnaround from Friday’s God-awful performance against Colorado. I wouldn’t even call it a sub-par effort because to do that, you’d have to have shown some effort, which Vegas did not do.

You knew changes were coming from Gerard Gallant. Nicolas Roy made his VGK debut centering the fourth line with Tomas Nosek moving up to the third line and Brandon Pirri being scratched.

It’s more about Gallant sending a message rather than the actual moves themselves, though the moves definitely paid dividends as Roy scored his first NHL goal, was a forechecking fool playing with William Carrier and Ryan Reaves and was hitting everything in sight in the Knights’ 5-2 win at T-Mobile Arena.

Pirri was goal-less in nine games so there was no harm in dropping him from the lineup. But it’s more Gallant expressing his displeasure about the inconsistent play from his team, and, more concerning, the lack of effort over 60 minutes.

When the Knights are good and winning games, it’s because they’re outworking their opponents, they’re playing fast and they’re forechecking the hell out of the other team’s defense, forcing turnovers and setting up scoring chances.

We haven’t seen that on a consistent basis this year. So that has nothing to do with Nate Schmidt and Alex Tuch being out. This is about busting your ass during your shift. Gallant should never, ever, have to coach effort.

The effort was much better Sunday. And Gallant had little, if anything to complain about. Especially after his team tightened up defensively all over the ice. The Knights allowed just 15 Anaheim shots, the fewest in the franchise’s brief history.

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Carp: Should Russian Players Be Concerned About Playing For The Golden Knights?

**Southern Nevada Sports Hall of Famer, Steve Carp’s returns to for the 2019-20 season. His weekly column publishes every Sunday during the Golden Knights season and is brought to you by the Jimmerson Law Firm.**

By nature, I’m no conspiracy theorist.

I don’t believe in aliens. I think Oswald acted alone when he assassinated JFK. I’m pretty sure Elvis is dead, though when I see Nick Ferraro perform as the “Philly Elvis,” sometimes a shadow of doubt creeps into my mind (only kidding).

But I have to admit, what I’m seeing with Russian-born players and the Golden Knights has me scratching my head and wondering just what the hell is going on?

(Photo Credit: Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

In the brief three-year history of the franchise, there have been three Russian players who were with the Golden Knights — Vadim Shipachyov, Nikita Gusev and Valentin Zykov. Their contributions have amounted to virtually nil. Two of the three have not had pleasant endings and Zykov could also find himself exiting with a less-than-favorable sendoff once his 20-game suspension ends.

First, let’s be clear about all of this. I’m not accusing George McPhee of sabotaging the NHL careers of the trio. Remember, this is the guy who drafted Alex Ovechkin when he was the general manager in Washington and no one’s going to deny that worked out pretty well.

So if you want to paint McPhee as a modern-day Harold Ballard who detested the Russians and perhaps saw their existence in the NHL as a necessary evil, you’d be missing the mark by a country mile.

That said, the fact none of the three have made a positive contribution to the franchise makes you wonder if something is amiss in the evaluation process or in the projection of what these guys could do.

Shipachyov didn’t produce, was sent to the minors, balked at being demoted and was eventually released after playing just three games and scoring one goal. He and his family never found a comfort level in Las Vegas nor was he able to find a comfort level on the ice. He is currently back in the Kontinental Hockey League playing with Dynamo Moscow and he leads the team in scoring with 21 points.

Gusev never got a chance to show he couldn’t play with the Knights. He was unable to break into the lineup during the playoffs, his time on the ice limited to practice. And when the Knights found his asking price to remain with the team was too steep, he was off to New Jersey. He’s doing pretty well with the Devils. He had three goals and four points in his first seven games and has quickly become a fan favorite in Newark.

Zykov, who had two goals in 10 games last year playing limited minutes (he averaged 11:37 TOI during his 10 games last year), worked hard over the summer, made the team out of training camp and had two assists in his first seven games playing on the third line before he got popped for violating the NHL’s performance-enhancing substances program.

I’m not going to get into the whole issue about how it went down, how Zykov essentially got thrown under the bus by some of his teammates and how McPhee reacted. That has all been covered.

I will say it would be disingenuous to think what happened to Zykov and what happened to Nate Schmidt a year ago are the same. The fact is, we’ve never known what was found in Schmidt’s system to trigger the positive test and we’re probably never going to know what exactly Zykov was taking (he and his agent said they were over-the-counter supplements).

Until the NHL becomes more transparent with its drug policy and the testing is more rigorous, you’ll never get the truth.

So, what happens when Zykov serves out his suspension? Do the Knights welcome him back? Do they claim he breached his contract and subsequently cut him loose and eat his $675,000 contract? Do they send him back to the AHL?

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Gary Bettman Remains Bullish On Vegas, Golden Knights

**Southern Nevada Sports Hall of Famer, Steve Carp’s returns to for the 2019-20 season. His weekly column publishes every Sunday during the Golden Knights season and is brought to you by the Jimmerson Law Firm.**

Among the 18,188 in attendance Tuesday night at T-Mobile Arena for the Golden Knights-Nashville game was the general manager of the Seattle NHL franchise.

I assume Ron Francis was taking careful notes, both from what he was watching on the ice and what he was seeing inside The Fortress.

He would be wise to do both.

Also in attendance Tuesday, and nearly as conspicuous, was the NHL commissioner.

Yes, Gary Bettman was in the house and he kept a low profile, lest he get the crap booed out of him by the Medieval Maniacs who may never forgive him for the performance of his officials in Game 7 of the opening round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs last April.

Do Knights fans have long memories? Hell yes they do.

(Photo Credit: Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

What was Bettman doing in Las Vegas? He was a speaker at a symposium on sports betting at the Global Gaming Expo Wednesday morning at the Sands Expo and Convention Center. He was in good spirits and rightly so, given nobody booed him and no one asked him about officiating or concussions and CTE.

He was asked about the success of the Golden Knights and what it has meant for the NHL in the team’s brief existence. He was quick with his responses, praising Bill Foley for the job he and his organization have done (Sorry Ken, Bettman did not refer to Foley as “The Creator”).

I asked him if Francis should be paying close attention to what goes on here at T-Mobile.

Seattle is its own market. I think the experience inside T-Mobile Arena is consciousness-raising. But we all know what works in Las Vegas doesn’t necessarily work elsewhere. Seattle is going to have the same opportunities in the Expansion Draft and everything is on schedule and we expect Seattle will be another fantastic NHL experience. -Bettman

For Bettman and the NHL, the growth of sports betting throughout the U.S. is an opportunity to help develop new fans and give existing hockey fans more options to connect to the game. It’s a far cry from 20 years ago when then-Mayor Oscar Goodman paid Bettman a visit in his mid-Manhattan office in an attempt to secure a franchise for Las Vegas and got the cold shoulder.

But timing is everything. The building of a first-class arena, the growth of the area’s population and rising media market and an owner who was willing to put up half a billion bucks all helped change Bettman’s mind. He became an advocate for Las Vegas and had he not backed Foley’s bid, Las Vegas might’ve been Quebec City on the outside looking in.

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