The biggest surprise of the season, the expansion Vegas Golden Knights still have second place in the Pacific Division, despite a recent skid. We’ve talked about the scrappiness and speed of this team already, but I wanted to know what it was like off the ice for this crew. Turns out, it’s pretty fun.
“This team is already tighter than a ton of teams in the league,” said defenseman Luca Sbisa. “Because we had no choice but to make that extra effort to get to know each other. It’s not like getting traded to a team where 22 guys have played together for years and you’re the new guy, where there’s already cliques. Everyone was in the same boat.”
During a three-day break early in the campaign, the team did some top-notch bonding in the city by breaking into groups and having their own version of The Amazing Race. From Red Rock Canyon to the famous Las Vegas welcome sign, the teams had to navigate checkpoints, many of which were spots they could also take family or friends to when they were town (an ice bar, a Medieval Times-style spot, etc.). Sbisa was on the winning squad – but he admitted that having Vegas resident Deryk Engelland on his side didn’t hurt. Once the checkpoints were completed, the team all had dinner together – something that has been a very frequent occurrence this season.
And while all hockey players go out for eats with their teammates, the Golden Knights have relied on the pastime to get to know one another.
“Everyone has been looking out for each other,” Sbisa said. “It’s a very fun environment.”
There’s also a competitive edge to the proceedings. Let’s not forget that this roster is almost entirely made up of players who were deemed expendable by their former employers. The Knights themselves certainly haven’t forgotten.
“We all came in with a chip on our shoulder,” said right winger Alex Tuch. “Our previous team didn’t protect us, our previous team traded us – it’s something you bond over.”
And no one is hiding from their old squads. The guy in the middle of the morning stretch has been rotating, so whenever possible, it’s someone from that night’s opponent. The only team Tuch could think of that didn’t apply was Chicago, since Trevor van Riemsdyk was traded by the Knights before the season even began.
Another fun tradition, albeit a standard in the hockey world, is putting money on the board. Essentially used by players when they want to motivate their boys to beat a former team, writing down a cash prize for the winning goal on the whiteboard has been a constant in Vegas, since everybody has a former team.
“We had a lot of money on the board, especially early on,” Sbisa said. “And we got the wins.”
Which makes things all the more fun. That early success that saw the team get off to an 8-2-0 start has tailed off a bit, but everything the Knights did laid the groundwork for a team that refuses to be an expansion doormat. The fans are filling the arena every night (Vegas ranks third in attendance when based on capacity percentage, behind only Chicago and Minnesota) and the good vibes are evident. And it’s hard not to look at that early team-building as one factor.
“Right away, this team has such good friendships already,” Sbisa said. “Just a bunch of goofy guys that chirp each other. It’s fun.”