Squire Report, Vol 2: Debut

29 September 2017

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.


As mentioned, I had a few moments to sit down with Steve Carp during the intermission of the rookie game.  Carp, a member of the U.S. Basketball Writers Association Hall of Fame, has been working for the Las Vegas Review-Journal since 1999, and will serve as their main Golden Knights beat writer for the upcoming season.

On the marketing of the team:
"They’ve sold 14,000 season tickets, and the building is gonna be sold out pretty much every night. I think the business side is trying to catch up to the hockey side. I think eventually they’ll get it together. The last big hurdle is the deal with Cox Cable to get the games on AT&T Sportsnet. They’ve been trying do a lot of different things and get all of their ducks in a row and it’s not easy."

On the road trip through the Rockies:
"I thought it was smart, to be honest with you. They’ve been doing stuff for the locals since the inception. They’ve had the Open House, they’ve had street hockey clinics for kids, they’ve launched their Ice Hockey Youth Initiative - they’ve done plenty of things in Las Vegas. The NHL gave Bill Foley this territory, and he’d be stupid to not market to that territory. From my standpoint, what they could have done differently would’ve been to kick off the thing with an event in Las Vegas, go to Reno, and then on to Coeur d’Alene and Whitefish and Bozeman and then on to Salt Lake and whatever. It was put together very quickly and so I think you’ll see next year’s event better organized, and you’re gonna see plenty of things in Las Vegas and Henderson. They’re not gonna ignore their own backyard - they’re just not gonna do that. They are gonna do plenty of promotional stuff in Las Vegas. Just the reality of it."

Will you be traveling with the team this year?
"Most of the games, yes. Dave Schoen is backing me up on the beat, he’s been at the R-J for a few years, he’s been doing high school stuff, he’s also our poker writer and covers the World Series of Poker - Dave’s a good hockey man, he played here in southern California, growing up in Irvine, and he’ll make a few trips too. But yes, I will be making most of the road trips this first year."

With the small press corps, is it easier to get access to the GM and some of the players when there’s not as many reporters?
"No, because the team has their own in-house media component - so we’re actually competition for those guys. So I think it’s harder. In the old days it would have been easy, but with social media and stuff, the team has its own built-in component and they get first dibs and best access. I don’t get the access those guys do. It’s a little frustrating, but that’s the reality in 2017 though. It’s just the way it is now."

What’s the travel like? Does it take a toll on you being away from your family, or does the excitement of covering the team override that?
"Well I think for this year, everything is so new, but I got to travel around the league last year, in an attempt to get to know everybody, so I got a little taste of it, and it’s hard - it is difficult, you go to tough places in the winter time, trying to get from Winnipeg to St. Paul and then down to Washington and it is a bit of a challenge. I’ve actually been trying to get myself physically ready for it, more so than mentally, because I’m not a young man anymore and it is a young man’s world.

But the fact remains, I always wanted to cover hockey, I played as a kid in New York growing up, I got to play in college (Manhattan College) for a couple of years on their club team. So for me, this is a wonderful way to come full circle with my career and also with my love for the sport, so I’m very excited. I’m looking forward to working with the players and coaches and I’ve got a great relationship with Bill Foley, general manager George McPhee, (assistant GM) Kelly McCrimmon and all of the staff, and I hope our readers enjoy our coverage - we’re really dedicating ourselves to providing the best coverage of the first ever major league professional sports team in Las Vegas."


On the final Sunday in September, I once again got to see the Golden Knights in person, as they played in their first preseason game in California, squaring off against the Ducks in Anaheim.  The rookie game in El Segundo was exciting enough, but actually seeing the veteran players in an NHL arena took that anticipation to another level.  While there may not have been the same buzz in the crowd due to the overwhelming lack of Vegas fans, it was still fun to be in the audience to support my new favorite team.

I'm not sure I've ever been more excited for a preseason game, especially since I was on hand to see the Knights play an almost-perfect road game and leave town with a 4-2 victory.  The best part of being there was that it gave me a better opportunity to evaluate the various players on the training camp roster.  My thoughts:

- I think Colin Miller could be the top-pair defenseman this team needs. I know when expansion teams come around, there are always stories about guys who take the opportunity to get expanded minutes and blossom into stars. I know many Vegas fans like myself all thought that was going to be Nate Schmidt, but I think Miller could be the one.
- Pierre-Edouard Bellemare is a force on the penalty kill. He may not be flashy, but he does what needs to be done - he’s fantastic at forechecking in the zone and simply ragging the puck to waste time. He should be the locked into the 4th line center spot for the near future.
- Teemu Pulkkinen continues to frustrate. When he can unleash his shot, he’s effective - but otherwise, he’s just there. I thought he would be better off in Chicago, but now I think management should just give him the year in Vegas and if he doesn’t prove he can be a full-time NHL player, they can decline to give him a Qualifying Offer and let him depart as a free agent. Three other organizations have already passed on him, so this should be his last shot.
- Speaking of frustrating…Griffin Reinhart. I was excited to give him another opportunity, and I've defended his selection in the Expansion Draft for a while, but he just doesn’t look very good. His only attribute is his size, and he DOESN’T use it. He’s too slow to keep up with the speedy forwards, and he has no real offense to speak of. I think Reinhart may be playing his last games in Vegas.
- With the way the game is trending toward faster, puck-moving defensemen, I find it odd that I have SO much more faith in 29-year-old journeyman Brad Hunt than I do in the 23-year-old Reinhart. I think I would be sad to see Hunt get sent down to the AHL, since he’s REALLY earned his spot with his play in camp, and I think someone might take a chance and claim him on waivers. Like Miller, Hunt could be one of those guys that takes advantage of an increased role on an expansion team, in order to carve out a nice NHL career.
- Marc-Andre Fleury was outstanding, and proved how playing in front a good goaltender can give a team a certain measure of confidence. He was the best player on the ice, and the fact that he wasn’t one of the Three Stars is laughable, almost as laughable as the fact that the Ducks, who had no real standouts on the ice, got two of the Three Stars.

As a whole, I think I saw three Golden Knights jerseys in the crowd, and maybe another dozen or so fans wearing Vegas shirts.  Whenever the team scored, you could hear faint cheers from each corner of the Honda Center, and I got to meet a few of my fellow Knights fans as I left the building, handing out some high-fives as we departed into the night.


For the sake of the Golden Knights fans in Las Vegas, I had hoped this statement would indeed be false, but as of this writing it is not to be.  Both the first preseason game (in Vancouver) and all three home preseason games will air on AT&T Sportsnet, but the Cox customers are still being left out.  If it's any consolation, during our interview in El Segundo I told Steve Carp about my theory that the deal will be struck right before the season begins, to which he responded: "I think it’s actually gonna happen a lot sooner. They’re real close."  A week later, Carp did a nice write-up in the Las Vegas Review-Journal, after speaking with Knights owner Bill Foley.  Hopefully, he's correct in his assumption.

It was inevitable and I had a strong hunch, but it just took time - sure enough, the Golden Knights will be holding a "fan fest" on October 3, where fans will be able to meet the players and team personnel.  In addition - and what I'm most excited about - the team's new mascot will be unveiled!  I'm jealous of the local folks who'll be able to check this out, and I hope it's a huge success.

We're really going to love this guy...

Not too shabby for my first prognosticating effort!


With training camp winding down and the preseason games wrapping up, it's going to be a battle for the last few roster spots.  Selected from the Toronto Maple Leafs in the expansion draft, Brendan Leipsic is ready to take the next step in his development.  After tearing up the WHL as a member of the Portland Winterhawks, Leipsic has steadily improved since turning professional, increasing his points-per-game in each of his three AHL seasons.  Beginning next month, Leipsic will be eligible for waivers if sent down, and I have no doubt in my mind that another team would put in a claim for him.  While he may have been fighting off a slight injury that is putting his roster spot at risk, it appears that he's healthy enough to finish off the preseason and I think he'll be in Dallas with the Knights for the opening game on October 6.

General manager George McPhee has already stated that it is very unlikely the team will name a Captain for this season, opting instead for a "leadership group" - and I see no reason why Bellemare would not be part of that group.  As I mentioned last month, Bellemare has many of the qualities that teams look for when selecting the players who will set an example for the rest of the team, and he's already worn the 'A' during some of the preseason games.  While the team will have several experienced leaders to choose from - Deryk Engelland, Jason Garrison, and James Neal immediately come to mind - I still think Bellemare will get one of the nods.

It may seem like a far-fetched notion for an expansion team, but as I laid out in my guest post for the SinBin, I firmly believe the schedule is set up for Vegas to succeed right from the start.  After beginning with back-to-back road games, the Knights will have seven straight home games, including four games against teams who missed the playoffs last season.  While I'm sure this season will have its dismal days over the final 73 games, I think these first three weeks could provide a lot of joy and optimism to the Vegas faithful.

And with that, I bid thee farewell...

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