Squire Report, Vol 3: History!

26 October 2017

So much to talk about, so let's get right to it - the inaugural regular season has begun!!


Yes, the 31st National Hockey League team played its first game in Dallas on Friday, October 7.  It was a hard-fought, up-tempo contest that saw Vegas goalie Marc-Andre Fleury turn in a dazzling performance, stopping 45 of 46 Dallas Stars shots to earn 1st Star of the Game.  Just when it seemed bleak in the 3rd period, the Knights found another hero in winger James Neal, who scored twice in the final 10 minutes to help carry Vegas to an improbable 2-1 win.  After all of the months of planning, it was amazing to see the team actually take the ice and come out of a very hostile environment with a tough road victory.  

To make matters even better, the Knights carried this momentum into Arizona the very next day - it was a tight-checking game and Vegas trailed 1-0 going into the late stages, before Nate Schmidt tied the game just after Fleury was pulled for an extra attacker with a little over a minute to play.  Building on his heroics from the opening game, James Neal would bury the OT winner and send the Coyotes fans home unhappy on the wrong end of a 2-1 defeat.  

Two wins in two road games.  Now it was time to head home, to face an adoring crowd in need of healing...


When I booked my flight and hotel room earlier this summer to see the first home game in Vegas Golden Knights history, there was no way I could imagine that I would be on hand for one of the most dramatic games one could possibly witness.  After the tragic events that rocked the city just nine days earlier, Las Vegas was now ready to throw all of their emotional support into their new hockey team, and the Knights pulled out all of the stops.

The pregame festivities were lively, beginning with the NHL Centennial Fan Arena situated in front of T-Mobile arena, which featured games and exhibits for the fans to enjoy.  Then came my favorite part of the afternoon: the Gold Carpet!

Each player on the Golden Knights - as well as the TV announcers (Dave Goucher and Shane Hnidy), and general manager George McPhee - took turns walking down the carpet, pausing to chat with fans, while posing for photos and signing autographs.  They understood the weight of the evening, but also did their best to lift everyone's spirits.  It was tremendous, and my friend Chad and I used the opportunity to meet as many of them as possible:

LEFT: William Karlsson; RIGHT: Jonathan Marchessault (top), Erik Haula (middle), Pierre Edouard-Bellemare (bottom)
Chad and I with Cody Eakin (top) and Malcolm Subban (bottom)
LEFT: Nate Schmidt; RIGHT: Colin Miller (top), Brendan Leipsic (bottom)
Chad and I with James Neal (top) and Marc-Andre Fleury (bottom)
And last but certainly not least, I got a chance to meet someone I've long admired and always wanted to meet - he saw my shirt and simply said, "Hockey Transplant from where?"  I explained that it was the name of my blog and that I was originally from the St. Louis area now living in Los Angeles.  Say what you will about him, but he was very nice and good-humored:  

with NHL commissioner Gary Bettman
The carpet was then rolled up and it was time to head inside for the ceremonies!

We were greeted at the entrance by members of the UNLV hockey team, who were handing out commemorative pucks to everyone in attendance - we couldn't have asked for a better keepsake!

We soon made it to our seats, and once the players were finished with their warmups, the impassioned tribute began.  First, they played a video presentation recognizing the strength and perseverance of the city, which included words of support and encouragement from players all around the NHL. The message of the night was simply, "Vegas Strong!"

The team would then put a terrific twist on the player introductions, by having each member of the team greet one of the city's "first responders" - from police officers and fire fighters to doctors and nurses, all of whom played such a vital role on that tragic evening.  They set up a carpet on the ice where the first responders could stand, with the Knights standing behind them - and in a great show of solidarity, the visiting Arizona Coyotes took the ice and stood behind the Knights.  Knights owner Bill Foley then brought out several of the survivors from the attack to drop the puck at center ice.

The ceremony would take a somber turn from there, as the names of the 58 victims were projected onto the ice, while a 58-second "moment of silence" was observed in honor of those who perished. Defenseman Deryk Engelland, a longtime Las Vegas resident himself, finished the proceedings by giving a heartfelt speech about his adopted hometown - in a weird twist of fate, the speech would last 58 seconds in length:

And then...the puck was dropped.

The Knights came out on a mission, taking the play to the Coyotes and throughly dominating them from the start.  When Tomas Nosek scored less then three minutes into the game, the entire arena erupted.  Two minutes later, Engelland would score to bring the crowd to a frenzy, while the legend of James Neal continued to grow as he gave the Knights a 3-0 lead before the game was six minutes old.  I'm not one to cheer too loudly when I attend games, but I found myself growing hoarse with each passing minute - it was such a powerful scene, and it was hard not to get completely wrapped up in it.  Just after the period was halfway over, James Neal scored again and the arena could barely contain the deafening sound.

It wasn't until the first period ended that I could finally take a moment to catch my breath and reflect on what I had just witnessed.  I've seen dozens of hockey games over the past 25 years, but I have NEVER seen any sporting event that had this level of emotional outpouring, nor do I imagine I ever will again.  The first intermission featured a performance by Cirque du Soleil, which provided a very calming sense of relaxation that was much appreciated by those in attendance.  The remaining two periods were somewhat anti-climactic, as the Coyotes seemed quite disinterested, and the Knights skated away with an easy 5-2 victory.  But one final image will always stick with me - at the game's conclusion the Vegas players saluted their home fans, with the Coyotes joining along in a terrific collaboration:

This night was just too perfect - the surprising winning streak would continue, and the fans got an evening that they will never forget.  Though the Knights would finally lose in their next home game, the impression that the team has left on their city is immeasurable.


This one turned out to be an easy choice, as the Knights only sent one player through waivers (Teemu Pulkkinen, just as I had suspected), while using the rules in place to send exempt players Alex Tuch, Shea Theodore and Vadim Shipachyov to the AHL to keep their roster intact.  As a result, every other player taken in the Expansion Draft made the team, including Leipsic - and it's a good thing, because he has been terrific so far this season.

Okay, so this one was a bit of a technicality: instead of naming one captain and two alternates, the Knights opted instead to name SIX (!) alternate captains, using three at home and three on the road.  Sadly, Bellemare was not one of those six when the season began - but when defenseman Jason Garrison was eventually scratched, his "A" was given to Bellemare for the time being.  It was destiny, if you ask me.

I couldn't be more proud of this bold prediction, as the Knights jumped out of the gate by winning three straight games, and five of their first six.  I honestly thought I was going to have to sweat this one out, but they took away all of the drama by hitting the 10-point mark before the season was even two weeks old!


The seven-game home stand has been terrific for Vegas, but the true test of their character will come during the team's first road trip through the East Coast - they face some formidable opponents along the way, but I'm confident they will finish with at least a .500 record in those six games, no matter who they have it net.  Speaking of which...

Malcolm Subban will be back in about a month, and Marc-Andre Fleury could be back sooner, but we still have no idea who is going to take the reins and be the lead goalie in Vegas while they're both out of the lineup.  However, I'm convinced that coach Gerard Gallant will ride the hot hand and I can easily see both Dansk and Lagace taking advantage of their opportunity to impress the coaching staff, and showing the confidence that George McPhee had when he signed them both on July 1.

It could be the obvious move of a defensemen being on his way out - or McPhee could surprise us by sending out a forward - but in the next month we will finally see the roster get sorted out with at least one trade involving a player that was selected in the Expansion Draft (my guess is that either Brayden McNabb or Jason Garrison will be on the move).  They need to make room for Alex Tuch and Vadim Shipachyov to get full-time duty in Vegas, and possibly call up defenseman Shea Theodore from Chicago as well, so I think the time has finally come.  Get it done, George! 

And with that, I bid thee farewell...

You Might Also Like


Popular Posts