By W.G. Ramirez
LAS VEGAS (AP) — Young hockey players tend to get a certain glimmer in their eyes when a new season approaches, and they talk about the sport they grew up learning on a pond or outdoor rink.
Fueled by one thing, 30-year-old Jonathan Marchessault still gets that gleam.
“Passion,” the Vegas Golden Knights forward said Friday during a conversation with The Associated Press. “I don’t know if I’ll ever not have the passion for it. I am just excited to start every game.”
On Tuesday night, when Vegas opens the season at home against the Seattle Kraken, the NHL’s newest expansion team, Marchessault will be one of seven players on the ice who skated with the Golden Knights when they were the league’s new kids on the block in 2017.
Marchessault is the Golden Knights’ all-time points and assists leader with 225 and 133, respectively. He has scored the franchise’s most even-strength goals (72), power-play goals (20) and game-winning goals (19) since its inception.
But for the 5-foot-8 diminutive spark plug, who has been a leader in the locker room and on the ice since day one, none of his statistics matter without one thing.
“It’s been a great ride for sure, but I don’t think none of us will be satisfied with our career or everything that we’ve done here if we don’t win it all,” Marchessault said. “The goal is the same every year.”
The Golden Knights have once again been pegged as a favorite to win the Western Conference and Stanley Cup.
Vegas coach Peter DeBoer said it’s the chip on Marchessault’s shoulder that drives him, likely because of his size and the fact he’s spent a lifetime being told he can’t do something. He went undrafted and played four years in the minors before playing in his first NHL game in 2015.
“In that group of guys ... that came into the league as unheralded or undrafted, had to work for everything they got,” DeBoer said. “Was a big man’s game when they entered the league and they had to fight to make themselves relevant. Nothing’s been handed to him, and that’s the way he plays. He plays with a chip on his shoulder like he’s out to prove that the people that told him he couldn’t do it were wrong. And he’s done that every year.”
Marchessault concurred, saying it’s the echoes of past coaches who cut him because he was too small or even being disallowed from joining training camps at 10, 11, and 12 with a preconceived notion he was too little to compete with bigger boys who were the same age.
Marchessault, who has made stops in Columbus, Tampa, and Miami before calling Vegas home, also remembers juniors and being coached in a way that brought him down mentally, because of hurtful rhetoric. Yet, through it all, he says he’s embraced what he brings to the ice.
“You’re in control of how you are in a day, and I’d rather do that being happy,” he said. “That’s how I think. I will never let anyone take me down and I don’t care what people think of me, I just want to make sure that I’m happy and make everyone happy around me.”
That approach includes bringing life to the Golden Knights locker room, whether it’s in the form of inspiration, joking with other players or creating an overall positive vibe before his teammates take the ice.
And while he may be the smallest player on the roster, he said he’ll always provide the biggest burst of motivation by making sure he’s pushing his teammates during practices or in the heat of close games.
“I want to push who our best shooter is - Patch (Max Pacioretty),” Marchessault said. “I want to push Patch to be better, I want to push Stoney (captain Mark Stone) to be better, I want to push Will Carrier to be better. Everybody needs to push each other, that’s how you become a successful team. It’s important that everybody stay honest to each other, know your role and push yourself to become better as a hockey player.”