GOLDEN KNIGHTS Players no one wanted bond in Vegas
Tuesday: Come back to whip the Chicago Blackhawks 5-2 in front of a sold-out crowd and reclaim first place in the Western Conference, one point out of first overall.
Wednesday: Head down to the strip to train with Cirque du Soleil on stage at the MGM Grand.
Welcome to Las Vegas, where it’s business as usual for the coolest team in the NHL.
“Who would have thought we’d be here doing this?” said Vegas winger Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, soaking in the majestic KA Theatre.
“All of the players on this team were scattered all over the United States (six months ago), and now we’re all here together at the Cirque du Soleil. It’s pretty sick.”
They’re all seasoned hockey players who have seen a lot in sports and done a lot in life, but the Knights were still grinning like it was a junior high school field trip.
Not many of these players would have every guessed when they were busing through snowstorms in junior that one day soon they would be spending a practice day on stage in a Vegas hotel, swinging from the rafters on aerial sheets.
“This is an absolute high note. It’s pretty incredible,” said defenceman Nate Schmidt. “This is it right here, this is what makes our city so special, that we can go out and do these things.”
What began as the most humbling day of their professional careers, being left unprotected in the expansion draft, is turning into the best thing that ever happened to them.
And one of the best stories in sports.
“It’s been a lot of fun,” said Deryk Engelland. “We have a great group of guys in the room, great staff, the organization has been phenomenal in every way possible. I think guys are just enjoying the time right now.
“And you can’t beat the atmosphere in the rink. It’s been phenomenal every single game. I think, as a player, seeing the entertainment and atmosphere is amazing.
They had no idea what was waiting for them in Las Vegas, but they, like most of the world, guessed it was going to be a little sleazy, a little tacky and about the worst place in the world to bring up kids and play hockey.
“I wasn’t expecting this,” said Bellemare. “It’s so much better. When I first got the news I was, ‘How do you raise a family there?’ But 85 per cent of the world has no idea what Vegas is all about. You come here and see the communities. They’re unbelievable. There is no point being on the strip. The restaurants all around town are unbelievable and they ’re made for the locals, and if you want to have a crazy night out, you go on the strip.
“And I’m a hockey player, so if the hockey is going well, everything else will fall into place.”
Winning had made everything else fall into place. The atmosphere, the support, the rest of the Vegas community welcoming the team into the entertaining scene, none of it would be happening if the Knights weren’t a Stanley Cup contender right out of the box.
“I think winning makes everything better. It makes everything fun,” said goalie Marc-Andre Fleury. “And we have a great bunch of guys, too. I’m proud of where we are right now and how our team is playing.
“When we came here, we didn’t know to expect. There has never been any other (pro) team here before. It’s exciting. It’s crazy the support we get from the fans and how many people I meet off the ice wearing our hats and shirts and talking about hockey.”
And they have become one of the tightest teams in the NHL, pulled together by a common thread: Nobody else wanted them.
“We all realized we’re in it together and no other team wanted to keep us,” said Bellemare. “Somehow that made us tighter. Everybody thought that was going to divide us, but it was the opposite, it made us much closer.”