29 September 2017

Squire Report, Vol 2: Debut

After months of planning and roster-building, the day has finally come: the Vegas Golden Knights are playing actual hockey games. Okay, for the purposes of this discussion, “actual games” will mean “rookie scrimmages” and “preseason contests”, but you get my drift. On to the action…


I had the great fortune to be in attendance for the very first game to feature Golden Knight players squaring off against another team: the initial rookie game against the prospects of the Los Angeles Kings, played at the Kings’ practice facility in El Segundo. Maybe it's just me, but I felt a certain buzz in the air as I entered the venue. The stands were packed, the media was assembled, and officials/executives from both clubs were hovering from a distance.

Included among these team officials was Pierre Turgeon, a player I had always admired during his five years in St. Louis, who was recently hired as an "Offensive Coordinator" for the Kings.

Before the game started, I immediately made my way to the concourse behind the stands, where I shared a few words with Knights insider Gary Lawless. From there, I recognized Vegas reporter Steve Carp and introduced myself - I would “interview” him later in the evening, but for now we just chatted about the makeup of the team. He also introduced me to the people sitting directly next to him: Lisa Dillman, longtime writer for the LA Times, now working for NHL.com; and Dan Marrazza, the “social media coordinator” behind the ever-popular Golden Knights Twitter feed.

The puck was soon dropped and the two teams captivated the crowd instantly. It was clear that the Kings fans in attendance had been starved for hockey, while those of us cheering for the Knights (of which there was a small handful, including some of the players’ families) were just excited to finally see those jerseys on the ice. The pace was quick right from the opening face-off, and an audible gasp could be heard throughout the building when Tomas Hyka scored for the Knights less than two minutes in.

What followed was a highly contentious and spirited affair, as both sets of future stars looked to impress their respective management team. There were big hits, a couple of fights, and skirmishes after many of the whistles. Undrafted and playing on a tryout, Vegas goalie Logan Thompson was stellar, stopping every shot the Kings fired at him. He was replaced halfway through the game by 6th round draft pick Jiri Patera, who struggled from the start, allowing the first Kings goal soon after taking the ice, as well as five more goals before the game would end.

Though the Knights would fall by a score of 6-2, it was still a promising look into the team's future. Aside from Patera’s struggles, many of the prospects looked great: 1st round picks Nick Suzuki and Cody Glass showed promise; Reid Duke excelled as the top center, earning the faith the team showed in signing him as a free agent; and Tyler Wong, signed to an AHL-only contract, did not look out of place.

The Knights would exact their revenge the following day, defeating the Kings 4-0 behind a stellar goaltending performance from Dylan Ferguson (a 2017 7th round pick from Dallas, who was traded to Vegas in the deal that sent expansion pick Marc Methot to the Stars). It may have been nothing more than a meaningless rookie scrimmage, but the first “victory” in franchise history still had a certain charm to it. Training camp would start the next day back in Nevada, but the kids did a great job during their brief moment in the spotlight.

22 September 2017

Hockey Road Trip: Sunshine State Safari

Florida. The Final Frontier. Or as some might even call it, The Sunshine State. So often in my life, everything comes back to Florida.

Just like so many Navy brats before and after me, Florida was my home for a brief period. More than once, in fact. Not long after I was born in the suburbs of Chicago, my father would get transferred to the Jacksonville area for a short stint in the late 1970’s. At the dawn of the following decade, we were shipped off to Maine for nine months, returning back to Jacksonville as I began kindergarten in 1981. My memories of Florida aren't too vivid, though I do distinctly recall my mother working for a local aquarium. Midway through my first year of grade school, the family would return to Illinois, but it wouldn't be the last time I'd set foot in The Sunshine State.

As I was finishing up my studies in film school, a couple of my classmates made a deal with a would-be producer to make a short film in Florida, which we would shoot after we graduated in the summer of 2001. We had a crew of 10 and we spent a week on Sanibel Island, just off the gulf coast near Fort Myers. I remember how it rained for about 20 minutes every day, and how we were terrorized by the local insects (namely, the no-see-ums) on a daily basis. But it was a fun life experience that made everyone feel like working members of the film industry.

Once Chad and I detailed the plan to visit every NHL arena, we immediately focused our attention to arenas that were due to be replaced or teams who had legendary players that were set to retire soon. This led us to New Jersey in the first year of our voyages, to see Martin Brodeur and Jaromir Jagr (who is STILL playing professional hockey, as of this writing), so I then suggested that we go to Tampa to see Martin St. Louis, who was approaching 40 at the time. I was also a fan of the University of Florida football team and had always wanted to see a game there, so the plan was set: we'd visit Florida in the fall of 2014. But then something unexpected happened…

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