Leafs im­pressed by scene as Las Vegas be­gins NHL play

Simcoe Reformer - - SPORTS - LANCE HORNBY

Tuesday was a wa­ter­shed evening for pro hockey in the South­west­ern U.S., with the home de­but of the Vegas Golden Knights. Ari­zona-raised Aus­ton Matthews watched the Knights play his child­hood team, the Coy­otes.

“The build­ing looked like it was ab­so­lutely rock­ing,” Matthews said of high­lights from the T-Mo­bile Arena. “I’d def­i­nitely love to see that.”

It was also a night for that re­gion to con­tinue the process of emo­tional heal­ing af­ter Amer­ica’s worst mass shoot­ing, a lone gun­man killing 58 and leav­ing nearly 500 wounded on The Strip. As the Knights were in­tro­duced, they were paired with a first re­spon­der or law en­force­ment of­fi­cial and both teams lined up be­hind the guests for the an­them.

“It looked awe­some,” Matthews said. “With the tragic in­ci­dent, you see all the sup­port from the teams they’ve played so far and the city and the build­ing. It doesn’t mat­ter where that kind of stuff hap­pens, you hear about it and it’s pretty sad and very un­for­tu­nate. I think the play­ers have been very strong about it and have done some very great things for the city.”

Coach Mike Bab­cock said the thought­ful game pre­sen­ta­tion showed Vegas “will be a great part­ner in the NHL.”

“It was spec­tac­u­lar,” Bab­cock said of the pre-game salute. “You can never give enough thanks to the first re­spon­ders.”

One door closes ...

Though Bab­cock said the late- night Vegas game was “past my bed­time,” he noted for­mer Leaf Bren­dan Leip­sic had an as­sist in the 5-2 win and two points in three games.

“I saw him in the first game they played,” Bab­cock said of the high-scor­ing Mar­lie that Toronto didn’t pro­tect in the ex­pan­sion draft. “He was trusted and he was on the ice a lot. We knew Leiper was a good player here, we liked his tenac­ity, we just didn’t have a spot for him. In the end you have to make some de­ci­sions, but you’re al­ways happy when guys can go else­where and they can play in the NHL.”

Per­fect fit so far

Swedes Calle Rosen and An­dreas Borgman have fit in well on and off the ice and their coach agrees they prob­a­bly had a cul­tural ad­van­tage on Nikita Zait­sev, another de­fence­men dropped right in the Toronto lineup from Europe.

“Zaits came from Rus­sia, th­ese guys came from Swe­den, much more (eas­ier) be­cause English (in Swe­den) is much more prom­i­nent,” Bab­cock said. “The way they’re talked to is more sim­i­lar so I think the tran­si­tion is eas­ier, plus you’ve got a buddy right there who had come over with you. Willy (Ny­lan­der) has been here, so you get more sup­port that way.”

Bab­cock did pur­posely place the Swedes between NHL vet­eran Ron Hain­sey in the dress­ing room at the ACC.

“We try and do ev­ery­thing we can to help them out,” Bab­cock said. “Hain­sey’s a good guy, but it’s no dif­fer­ent from where Patty Mar­leau is sit­ting. We try and get the room set up the best we can and yet some guys are pretty su­per­sti­tious where their stall is. There’s a fine line.”

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