LAS VEGAS – The Vegas Golden Knights’ entrance into the National Hockey League has been much more than just hockey.
The expansion franchise has not only enjoyed early success in the win column, but the organization has taken a very active role in supporting the Las Vegas community following a shooting at an outdoor country music concert that left 59 people dead and over 500 injured on Oct. 1.
“Obviously, it was real tough to deal with all that was going on,” Golden Knights head coach and Summerside native Gerard (Turk) Gallant told the Journal Pioneer in a recent phone interview.
Gallant agreed that while it is one thing to watch news coverage of acts of violence in other cities, it’s totally different when it basically happens in your backyard. Gallant was picking his daughter, Melissa, up at the airport at the time of the shooting, and noted they were only about 10 minutes away.
“You turn the radio on and hear there was something going on, and you hear and see the police vehicles and ambulances going, it was pretty scary,” recalled Gallant.
The Golden Knights’ organization and players immediately stepped up. The franchise honoured the victims and first responders in a very emotional pre-game ceremony for the team’s home opener on Oct. 10.
“The players were real supportive of the community,” emphasized Gallant. “They went to (visit) the first responders, went to the police stations and supported the victims.
“The organization, with the ceremony they had and everything they have done in the city of Las Vegas the last few weeks, has been outstanding.”
The Golden Knights have done their part, too. Vegas takes a record of 5-1-0 (won-lost-overtime losses) into Saturday night’s home game against the St. Louis Blues (6-2-0).
“We are going to work hard, get ready for every game and compete as hard as we can,” analyzed Gallant. “We are an expansion team and we will have some ups and downs, but we want to prepare ourselves for every game the best we can. No pressure, just go out, work hard and see where we go.”
Previous expansion experience
This is Gallant’s second go-around coaching an NHL expansion franchise. He was an assistant coach when the Columbus Blue Jackets debuted in 2000.
Looking back, Gallant said there is one big difference between building the Golden Knights compared to the Blue Jackets.
“We were able to put together a better team simply because the rules are a lot more favourable,” said Gallant. “You look at our team, we have some top-end players, we have some guys who can put the puck in the net and a few real good young defencemen.
“If you look at the rules back then (for Columbus), you didn’t get as many (quality) players. Now, with the way the expansion rules are, we got some top-end players and it worked out real well for us. That’s the way it should be.
“Back when we were in Columbus, we had mostly third and fourth-line players, but here we have some top-six forwards who had big years. That’s the difference.”