12 January 2018

Hockey Road Trip: From Missouri to Music City


As a longtime NFL fan living in Southern Illinois, I vividly remember the Rams moving from Los Angeles to St. Louis in 1994. After missing out on an expansion team, the Gateway City would now have a football team to call their own - unfortunately, this would be at the expense of the Rams fans in Los Angeles, who undoubtedly felt the same as the football fans in St. Louis did when the Cardinals moved to Phoenix in 1988 (as you can see, it’s a vicious cycle).

I followed the St. Louis Rams closely during those initial seasons, and I continued to keep an eye on them when I went off to college. I was ecstatic when they won the Super Bowl in 2000, and continued to watch them often when I moved to Los Angeles three years later. But I never actually made it to a game in St. Louis, even though I often considered going to see them during my various trips back home over the Christmas holiday.

But now it appeared the Rams time in St. Louis was coming to a close. By 2015, relocation rumors were swirling and it seemed like only a matter of time before they were headed back to their previous home in Southern California. Fearing that I couldn’t wait any longer, my travel companion Chad and I decided to attend the Rams final home game of that season - a Thursday night contest to be played a week before Christmas. But could we also include a hockey game during this trip?

We’d already seen games in St. Louis and Chicago, but Nashville wasn’t too far away. We’d yet to see a game in Tennessee and a trip in December would also allow us to see the Grand Ole Opry show at the historic Ryman Auditorium. The trip was perfectly set up, and I couldn’t wait to go!

02 January 2018

Squire Report, Vol 5: Believer


The incredible run continues, leading to a change of heart from your humble narrator...

THIS TEAM IS FOR REAL

When I decided I was going to become a fan of the Vegas Golden Knights, I did so with the idea that I would be witness to a team slowly being built in the salary cap era. The Expansion Draft was supposed to stock the roster with average players, and I imagined the team was going to struggle to compete in the Pacific Division. Meanwhile, the team would trade away all of the players with expiring contracts and build a “war chest” of draft picks for the future.

But then the season started.

Two surprising wins on the road, followed by a very successful 7-game home stand, propelled the Knights into first place by the end of the season’s first month. They were the talk of the NHL, but that couldn’t possibly last. On top of that, the top three goalies on the roster all suffered injuries and a formidable road trip in November would seemingly bring the team back to Earth.

But it didn’t.

Yes, the team did limp through that road trip and fall out of first place, but they quickly rebounded once they returned to Vegas to continue their hot streak at home. Convincing wins over strong teams in the West (Winnipeg, Los Angeles, San Jose, Anaheim) helped to solidify their status as a serious contender.

But I still wasn’t convinced, until the final month of 2017 rolled around.

December would only feature five road games, but they were all in tough environments: I was sure the Knights would lose many of them, perhaps even all five. Instead, they won four of those five contests: a hard-fought shootout victory in Nashville; an impressive win in Dallas against a Stars team that had dominated Vegas during their two previous matchups; and back-to-back wins in Anaheim and Los Angeles after the Christmas holiday.

But what about their home record? Could they continue their terrific play at T-Mobile Arena?

In a word, yes. A five-game home stand against Eastern Conference opponents saw the team go 4-0-1, besting both the defending Stanley Cup champions from Pittsburgh and the Tampa Bay Lightning, owners of the NHL’s best record. The team was clicking on all cylinders and distancing themselves from the rest of the teams in the West.

As a result, I’m prepared to say something I never thought I’d say during the summer: this team is a legitimate contender in their inaugural season. But if the organizational philosophy was to seemingly blow off this season and the next to build for a playoff run in Year 3, how do they alter their course to continue winning now while also setting the team up for long-term success? I’ve got some thoughts on that…

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