If you said to someone prior to the 2017-18 NHL season that the Vegas Golden Knights would be tied for first place in the Western Conference in late December, they would have looked at you sideways and potentially laughed you right out of the room.
Well, that’s exactly where we sit one day after the Golden Knights won a thriller against the beasts of the East, the Tampa Bay Lightning.
So what is this team’s secret?
“Every guy in our room has a chip on his shoulder,” Golden Knights winger David Perron wrote in The Players’ Tribune Wednesday. “And every time we step on the ice it’s a fight to prove our worth. That was clear from first time we put the Knight over our chests. And it carried over through pre-season, when we played well and a strong togetherness was beginning to form. We were feeling really good.”
Much like the Team Europe squad that surprised many by making the 2016 World Cup of Hockey final, the Golden Knights have come together far quicker than most expected.
Perron thinks it’s symbolic of the city they represent.
“We’re a bunch of people, from all over North America and the world, who were castaways from their teams. And nobody really took us seriously,” he wrote. “The same way people think Vegas isn’t a real city. They think it’s just a tourist town where people come to have fun. But it is a real city—with real people who care deeply about it. And we’re a real hockey team. With some real good players.”
Perron recalled a phone call he received while sitting on a boat on Quebec’s Lake Memphremagog in June prior to the NHL Expansion Draft. It was St. Louis Blues general manager Doug Armstrong on the line informing Perron the team wasn’t going to be able to put him on the protection list. Armstrong called back a few days later and told Perron they weren’t able to reach a deal with Vegas to ensure Perron could remain with the Blues either. It was news Perron had prepared for.
“It still hurt to hear,” he explained. “I thought I had done enough in the regular season to warrant a spot on the Blues for this year. But I told myself to stop thinking like that, and that I had my time to be disappointed already.”
Perron is chugging along in a top-six role at a point-per-game clip with seven goals and a team-high 20 assists in 27 contests. Having a coach that players respond to in a positive way has been a contributing factor.
“I knew Gerard Gallant was going to be the head coach. Every player who I ran into in my career who had played under him loved him. They told me he was a players coach and that—no matter what he had to do—he would get the most out of every guy,” Perron added. “I knew a coach like that would be important because of how our team would be made up. It was going to be a full group effort—every single player was going to have to contribute—if we were going to make some noise.”
Another layer, perhaps the most significant layer, to Vegas’s inspiring inaugural season is how the team has helped the city heal in the wake of October’s deadly mass shooting.
“We had our first [regular-season] game five days after the shooting, on the road in Dallas. I think being away from home helped our team a little bit,” Perron wrote. “All the emotion from that horrible night felt so raw, and at the end of the day, we’re playing hockey—it’s just a game. …
“I won’t forget opening night at T-Mobile Arena for the rest of my life. I wish, above everything else, that nobody would have to be a part of something like that. But to see the way the city responded was so special. The moment of silence … it was breathtaking. Usually during a moment of silence you can hear a few coughs or noises, but that night, there was nothing — just silence. We could feel the pain of the tragedy for those few seconds … everyone could.”
The team has showed no signs of slowing down and at this point in the season making the playoffs—something management presumably wasn’t counting on doing in its first year—is a distinct possibility.
Perron added: “It’s been a complete group effort. From our owner, Bill Foley, who has helped get this city excited, to our fans, to our management, to our coach, to our five goalies who’ve had to play this year — we are in this together.”