Golden Knights take pride in shock­ing NHL

Edmonton Journal - - SPORTS - ROBERT TYCHKOWSKI rty­chkowski@post­ On Twit­ter: @Rob_Ty­chkowski

It’s amaz­ing what the Ve­gas Golden Knights have been able to ac­com­plish so far, turn­ing left­overs and ta­ble scraps into one of the most palat­able ex­pan­sion teams the Na­tional Hockey League has ever seen.

Here we are, nearly a quar­ter through the sea­son, and hockey’s castoffs — de­spite what should have been a de­bil­i­tat­ing run of in­juries in goal — still have a bet­ter record than most of the starstud­ded teams in the league.

“I just think the guys are hun­gry, they come to the rink ready to play ev­ery day and they’re hav­ing a lot of fun,” said head coach Ger­ard Gal­lant, a castoff him­self, hav­ing been left on the curb by the Florida Pan­thers not that long ago.

“No player wants to be an ex­pan­sion-list player, but I think once they got to Ve­gas, they re­al­ized how good it is. The fa­cil­i­ties are un­be­liev­able and they’re re­ally happy there.

“The guys are re­ally happy, and they’re com­pet­ing and play­ing as a team.”

Peo­ple imag­ine that play­ing in Las Ve­gas means liv­ing in a sea of neon lights, side-step­ping drunken con­ven­tion go­ers and off-duty strip­pers on your way to the morn­ing skate.

It’s not. Most of the play­ers re­side in a pris­tine, af­flu­ent subur­ban par­adise 30 min­utes away.

“We don’t live down­town by any means,” said de­fence­man and for­mer Oiler Brad Hunt. “We’re in a town called Sum­mer­lin. It’s beau­ti­ful. You have the Red Rock Canyons. It’s re­ally nice.”

Google pic­tures of Sum­mer­lin and it looks like some­thing from a movie. Google the standings and Ve­gas is right in the mix for a play­off spot.

It might have been tough on their pride when they were left un­pro­tected by their for­mer teams, but they’ve got some­thing good go­ing on here and they know it.

“We came in here with a chip on our shoul­der to prove that our old team didn’t make the right de­ci­sion and our new team did to pick us,” said winger David Per­ron, an­other for­mer Oiler, who leads the team with 14 points. “I think we’re happy with the way it’s go­ing, but we have a lot of work to go.

“The fun part is that we’re in a play­off spot, we’re fight­ing for it. We’re not out of the race by De­cem­ber, which was the pre­dic­tion by a lot of peo­ple.”

The Knights at­tack with depth, boast­ing 13 play­ers with seven or more points (the Oil­ers have five) be­fore the puck dropped Tues­day at Rogers Place. Ve­gas has four de­fence­men with seven or more points (the Oil­ers have none).

“Every­one on the team wants to prove some­thing,” said goal­tender Maxime Le­gace. “The guys work very hard ev­ery night, the team ef­fort is al­ways there. The guys all came here with an open mind and you see that they want to win.”

They say the Knights are a very tight group, that the mis­fits have all come to­gether to form their own clique that is de­mand­ing re­spect from every­one they play. That to­geth­er­ness and team con­cept is an in­gre­di­ent Gal­lant stressed ev­ery bit as much as skill, and it’s pay­ing off.

“That’s a big part of my coach­ing, get­ting good, qual­ity veter­ans,” said the coach. “Deryk En­gel­land is a name you bring up right off the bat. A char­ac­ter guy, a leader on our hockey team. We have a bunch of vet­eran play­ers who are good guys and they bring the team to­gether.”

It must be hum­bling for a lot of other or­ga­ni­za­tions in the NHL that a team made up of their ex­pend­able parts got this good this quickly. It should also be a les­son to play­ers that in hockey, skill alone isn’t enough. If the work ethic isn’t there, nei­ther are the re­sults.

“Their record sur­prises me a lit­tle bit when I go back to the tra­di­tional ex­pan­sion type suc­cess,” said Oil­ers coach Todd McLel­lan. “But the peo­ple who run the pro­gram, GM Ge­orge (McPhee) and as­sis­tant GM Kelly (McCrim­mon), do a tremen­dous job of scout­ing. They spent a lot of time con­struct­ing the team.

“And I know Ger­ard Gal­lant re­ally well, so be­tween the three of them they’ve done a re­ally good job of putting their team to­gether and they’ve de­vel­oped an iden­tity a lot faster than any of the other ex­pan­sion teams in the past.”


Ed­mon­ton Oil­ers Jesse Pulju­jarvi takes down Ve­gas Golden Knights Brad Hunt Tues­day night in Ed­mon­ton.

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