For whatever reason, from the moment Pete DeBoer was named head coach of the Vegas Golden Knights Marc-Andre Fleury fell out of favor. It was clear DeBoer didn’t think the veteran netminder was enough to get the Golden Knights over the top, and a late season trade for Robin Lehner doubled down on that idea.
I don’t agree now, and I didn’t agree then. Acquiring Lehner gave the team depth in net which I believe is necessary for any team to make a run at the Stanley Cup. Then GM Kelly McCrimmon gave Lehner a five-year, $5M AAV contract that boggled my mind because of how it left the team in cap hell and also gave Lehner the starting job based on three regular-season games and an ok playoffs.
It also created a situation where the entire league knew you would want to move your former starter with two years remaining at $7M AAV. No one was going to stretch themselves to help what is already one of the best teams in the leauge, making Fleury as immovable as the VGK’s early demands.
While I could go on about how I think Lehner’s current contract is a hastily-made mistake of a signing, that’s not the issue here. Lehner has been bad this season, and now he’s hurt. McCrimmon and DeBoer are lucky they fanned on moving Fleury.
Marc-Andre Fleury has been thrust back into the starting role and is seizing the reins with aplomb.
The early-season rotation between Fleury and Lehner clearly showed Fleury was the better goalie. No matter if you went eye test or fancy stats, Fleury was better. It could be tempting to let Lehner continue on in the rotation or even start several consecutive games to break out of the slump now instead of later, but his injury has rendered that point thankfully moot.
Until he shows he’s no longer capable, Fleury deserves to be the starting goaltender for the Vegas Golden Knights by any standard of measure. His teammates love him, they clearly have enthusiasm playing in front of him. I would even call it joy. Fleury’s teammates want to play hard for him because he plays hard for them.
Age a factor? It doesn’t look that way. Even though Fleury’s on the wrong side of 35, he’s still in top shape, is tracking the puck better than ever (Lehner has had major struggles with this so far), and has an amazing ability to keep his head in the game even when his workload is light. All things elite goalies do every game.
Let me tell you everything I need to know about Marc-Andre Fleury and how much he means as a leader and teammate by way of a simple training camp observation.
Maybe you noticed. Maybe you didn’t. During camp this year, the young goalies flocked to Fleury. He would engage them, talking to them and helping them out when he could. Clearly he was invested in them when as the greybeard, he doesn’t have to be. He could just give them a nod or a tap on the pads. He could even just ignore them and prepare for the season. But that’s not who he is. Fleury is the guy who grooms the players who will eventually take his job because that’s what it means to him as a member of the Vegas Golden Knights.
I’m not saying Lehner was horrible to the youngsters. His body language suggests that he just wanted to do his own thing during camp and that’s just fine. He exchanged the customary taps and gestures when the situations called for it. But to compare the two is no comparison at all. Fleury is the guy you want in all situations.
On top of that, Fleury has come into this season with a fire lit under him. He has been nothing short of his best self on the ice, fighting for every puck and leading by his hustle and heart. You don’t have to be in the room to see how excited the team was to mob him off the bench after Sunday’s shutout. Go back and look at the celebration. It’s very clear what the situation is for the Vegas Golden Knights.
To his credit, DeBoer seems to have softened on his initial rejection of Fleury, partially out of necessity as Lehner isn’t available right now. But DeBoer did start the season with a clear rotation instead of just handing the reins to Lehner. Was that forced by Fleury’s salary? Maybe something about Lehner coming out of camp didn’t seem 100% right? Was there still concern about his shoulder surgery? Could be none of those. Could be all of them.
Whatever the case, if Lehner returns and the team goes back to a rotation, that would be a major mistake. I also believe it would cause murmurs in the locker room which is never good. The Vegas Golden Knights coaching staff and front office has to stand behind Marc-Andre Fleury as its starter until his play shows otherwise.
To do otherwise is to proceed at your own peril.
Silence no more: Blue Man Group member Marc Roberts loving new role as Silver Knights’ Town Crier | VHN+
Marc Roberts has spent over 20 years performing in silence. Well, silence in voice, at least.
One can’t call being a member of the Blue Man Group silent, per se.
Since moving to Las Vegas from the midwest in 2003, Roberts has been one of many to don the blue body paint and bald cap. He’s brought joy to plenty a patron from his playing of drums, to splattering colored dye onto those front and center at the Luxor.
This time, Roberts is trying something different. His newest gig requires the use of an instrument, but not the percussion apparatus he’s been accustomed to.
Rather than drums, Roberts now possesses a trumpet; one that’s as tall as him, and that perfectly encapsulates the hilarity and obnoxious manner that has brought his new persona, Herald the Henderson Town Crier, to life.
“To get to use my voice and talk to people, and go to a different area I never got to go with Blue Man, it adds a layer of a challenge that is so exciting,” Roberts said in a phone interview with Vegas Hockey Now. “I haven’t gotten to use a stage voice in so long, I’ve got to get some honey in my throat before games to make sure my throat doesn’t go stale.”
Roberts, who hadn’t played the trumpet formally since seventh grade, is the man responsible for setting AHL Hockey Twitter, and Southern Nevada Twitter for that matter, ablaze with magnificent content.
After every Henderson Silver Knights goal at Orleans Arena, Herald has one important duty: scurry down seven rows of stairs where a microphone awaits him. Perched next to this mic is the aforementioned brass instrument.
Herald takes his place under the spotlight, removes his mask — because even in medieval times, social distancing matters — takes a large breath, and plays the horn to proclaim that there is an announcement to be made; that a goal has been scored by a ‘Sir’ of House Henderson.
It’s about as random as it sounds. Then it actually happens, and you find yourself hoping the Silver Knights score again to allow Roberts to do his thing.
“It’s so far out there that you’re like, ‘the first thing I’m going to do is ground it. I’m going to give Herald physicality, give him life,'” Roberts said. “He’s going to live in between the goals. He’s going to live in between the games. This is a character that you’re going to see and you’re going to know.
“I’m not sure what he does at his house, but I know it’s something along the same lines of the dramatic effect of announcing a goal. Like, his morning routine will be very specific and very loud.”
The Origin of Herald
From the moment the Silver Knights became official, the Vegas Golden Knights’ entertainment division went straight to work.
Weekly meetings were held. Vegas’ AHL affiliate was going to play its first two years at Orleans Arena before moving to the Henderson Events Center on Paseo Verde Parkway. The task was to try and make it as fun of an experience as you’d see at Golden Knights games.
Despite the uncertainty of when the AHL season would start, ideas kept pouring in; some even pushed to next season.
One idea that had to happen on opening night Feb. 6: Herald the Town Crier.
“We got through the first two preseason games, and I saw [Golden Knights vice president of communications and content] Eric [Tosi] walking the concourse after the game on [Jan. 30],” said Ayron Sequeira, the team’s executive director of entertainment experience. “He looked at me and said, ‘we need the town crier.'”
Roberts initially auditioned to be the Silver Knights’ in-arena host. That position was filled by Bojo Ackah, on-air personality for hip-hop station Q100.5 FM. Despite that, Sequeira wanted Roberts to be involved.
She called Roberts and thought Herald would be the perfect role for him. Roberts laughed and then said yes.
The in-arena host has to have a sense of improv, and that’s what impressed Sequeira during Roberts’ audition.
“Marc was so good with the little details,” she said. “I knew him from his performances at T-Mobile [with BMG]. To see him audition as a host, and to see his personality and to see how he is at improv, he’s an incredible performer.”
Fast forward to the first week of February, and everything was in place for Herald’s debut, except for one thing: the scroll.
Sequeira scrambled two hours before puck drop to find a scroll. She called everywhere, from prop houses to Hobby Lobby. Nothing. Then she looked to her right, placed on a seat inside Orleans Arena; the team ribbons displayed on the empty seats.
Just like that, Herald had his scroll, and he was off.
“Welcome to minor-league hockey,” Sequeira said.
The role of improv
Trying to get a scroll together wasn’t the only challenge that night. Roberts’ approach when he announced a goal modified each time.
Take, for example, Jake Leschyshyn’s first goal in franchise history at 1:41 of the second period. Roberts walked to the mic, played the horn, and announced the goal.
But there were no royal titles or ‘House Henderson’ at the end of his proclamation.
“In between moments where I’m standing up, shouting, and in between the period breaks, I’m thinking of physicalities,” Roberts said. “I’m thinking of ways to just round it out.”
When he went back upstairs and met with Sequeira, they enjoyed it, but Roberts felt he could’ve done more. After some slight thinking, Roberts told Sequeira, “I should call them lords.” And then said, “I should say House Henderson.”
Thus, at 4:29 of the second period, “Lord Jake Bischoff of House Henderson!” scored a goal.
Jake Bischoff scored. The game is tied 2-2.
— Danny Webster (@DannyWebster21) February 7, 2021
Less than nine minutes later, Dylan Sikura scored the third goal of the period for Henderson. Roberts hurried down the stairs, jazz hands and all.
He removed his mask, took a breath, and let out one of the most hilarious staccato-like sounds from a horn ever heard this side of the Mississippi. It had the feel of, “damn it, I have to announce this again,” but turned into a build-up of not knowing what Herald will do next.
“He’s already so ingrained in me, that the level of improv and the level of reality a lot of times are riding in the same moment,” Roberts said. “When I came down there, it was almost an exasperating, ‘another one! OK! Hmmph! OK, here we go!’ Like I’m about to eat a turkey leg or something up there.”
Town crier homeboy came up flat on ye ol’ horn. pic.twitter.com/oNeUnT5yZm
— Danny Webster (@DannyWebster21) February 7, 2021
During the intermission, after some research, Roberts discovered that they’re not called lords, but rather ‘sirs.’ That led to ‘Sir Danny O’Regan’ scoring at 18:02 of the third period.
“The human inside my head is saying, ‘let’s make sure we get the name right, let’s make sure you’re in the right spot, let’s blow a proper toot,” Roberts said. “And the other side of it is, ‘none of this rift raft now! Let’s get going! Come on! We have a duty!” I’m fighting inside my head with Herald himself, who is taking over my consciousness.”
It’s also the little things in his appearance. Like when Peyton Krebs scored his first professional goal the following game, Roberts came to the microphone with a much larger scroll than what was previously used.
Roberts made 11 goal announcements in two home games. As time went on, Herald kept setting up shop.
“Every time I walked down there, Herald just got a little more real estate in my conscious mind,” Roberts said. “He’s got a big red chair ready to go in my mind, he’s got banners up. He’s got this own personal system in my head.”
“This is just the beginning.”
Herald is just one component of many the Silver Knights hope to unveil this season.
Clark County is allowing 15 percent of fans to attend Golden Knights games beginning March 1. That also goes for Orleans Arena allowing 1,425 fans.
The first Silver Knights home game with fans would be March 18 against the Stockton Heat.
An inaugural season without fans isn’t ideal. The Silver Knights are using this time, however, as a work-and-go situation to figure out what works from a production standpoint.
“We’re still putting out a great product from our side, but we’re also taking advantage of the fact that we can make mistakes that won’t go noticed because we don’t have fans,” Sequeira said. “We’re thankful, kind of, to try and find the positives in this situation.”
This could be a warm-up time, too, for Herald. But such a man with his boisterous personality doesn’t believe in trial and error.
“I don’t think Herald has error in his mind,” Roberts said. “Even if Herald stumbles down the stairs, that’s what he’s meant to do. He believes in his duty to the team, so much so, that if he has to announce relish coming on a hot dog, that needs to happen at that moment.”
Sequeira said plans are in place when fans arrive.
The team plans to unveil the Henderson Jesters, their version of a hype squad. There will also be people doing balloon animals, as well as freestyle dancers for your entertainment. Sequeira added there will be an entity similar to the Golden Knights’ drumline, the Knight Line, but it won’t be a drumline.
That could be debuted this season but will more than likely be moved to 2022.
“It’s important for people to know that we’re doing the best we can with what we are all facing as an organization,” Sequeira said. “We’re all facing this pandemic and things are constantly changing and evolving. We’re thankful and really grateful that we get to give people an opportunity to escape their reality for a little while.”
As for Herald, he will debut a new costume Wednesday when the Silver Knights return home to face the San Diego Gulls. What, praytell, could this costume look like?
“The only thing I’ll say is, when I’m coming down the stairs, it’ll have some whip to it,” Roberts said. “People will know when I pass them.”
Hopefully, that’s not the only thing. Some have suggested that Herald — the closest thing we’ve had this century to a character in “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” — be followed with the sound of clacking coconuts behind him.
Nevertheless, it’s been a collaborative effort between Roberts and the Silver Knights’ entertainment team. They’ve only scratched the surface for what they, and Herald, can become.
“The whole staff has been so incredibly supportive. The amount of potential of opportunities they’re going to give Herald, it’s exciting,” Roberts said. “The ideas they have, the windows that happen within a game, the moments that can happen, this is just the beginning.”
Ryan Reaves enjoys being a role model, giving back to the community
Growing up in Winnipeg, Ryan Reaves knew two sports as a young athlete: hockey and football.
He played both before setting his sights on ice.
His father, Willard, played in both the Canadian and National Football Leagues and was very involved with his children’s athletic activities.
In turn, Ryan Reaves watched and listened closely to how his father conducted himself both on and off the field.
Willard Reaves was extremely popular in Winnipeg and couldn’t walk down the street without being asked for a picture or an autograph.
“Just the way he interacted with everybody, he always had time to stop and talk and take a picture and shoot the shit a little bit with anybody that ever wanted to,” Reaves said during a 1-on-1 conversation in late 2020. “He’s always very respectful toward his fans and toward the community that he lived in. That was one thing that I really took from him.”
And that’s why the Vegas Golden Knights tough guy has a soft spot when it comes to community outreach and has always made time for children during his career.
“Throughout my career, I’ve kind of always gone for those off-ice events, where there are kids involved,” Reaves told me during an event at Doolittle Community Center in Historic West Las Vegas last February. “When I was younger living in Winnipeg I used to try to go and get some autographs from the Jets guys and just having one of those guys stop and talk to me for a minute was something that I always remembered.
“I had tried to bring that with me throughout my career, always taking time to hang out with the kids.”
Whether that meant talking to them, letting them see a familiar face from the game, letting them learn through professionals they’re aspiring to be one day, or, simply allowing a younger generation to have a good time with NHLers, Reaves said it’s important for not only himself but all professional athletes to lend their time whenever possible.
“It’s good to come and spread the hockey game and make sure they can learn it and it’s there if they enjoy it and watch it,” Golden Knights defenseman Brayden McNabb said during the Doolittle event. “It’s just fun to come and support and make sure we’re there to support whenever we need. I like where you can interact with the kids, play sports with the kids. It doesn’t have to be hockey or whatever kind of sport it is. That’s what I really like doing, is interacting with the kids and getting their competitive juices flowing and just having fun.”
A doting father of two, Reaves understands the importance of being a role model. So whether he is chatting with a youngster for one or two minutes, or spending an hour playing ball hockey, he believes “those kids will remember that for the rest of their lives.”
That’s why Reaves was pleased to announce his partnership with the Vegas Golden Knights Foundation this past week, to build a ball hockey rink for the James Boys and Girls Club of Southern Nevada, located in Historic West Las Vegas.
The project will create a place for underserved youth to learn the game of hockey, but it will also provide a flexible activity space that can offer a safe environment for additional sports programs, Golden Knights watch parties, and community social events.
“It’s exciting,” he said Friday during a press conference in Lake Tahoe. “We’re putting it at a Boys and Girls Club in an area that’s low income, predominately not a White area. An area where there’s gonna be kids that have never been exposed to the game before, probably never picked up a hockey stick, probably never watched a game most likely. Just to be able to provide a safe spot for them to come in and learn the game and kind of test it out and see if they like it, I think it’s gonna be exciting.”
Bridgestone Americas, Inc. announced this past week it is committing $200,000 to the National Hockey League Foundation in support of diversity and inclusion initiatives that will create more access to the sport for children and youth that represent hockey’s growing reach in Las Vegas and Nashville.
“I think hockey is stereotypically a white sport and to come out to these communities where there are different ethnicities and races, I think, is important,” Reaves said during last year’s visit to Doolittle, which is located roughly 2.5 miles from the facility he’s building the ball hockey rink. “Hockey is for everyone, but it’s not always exposed to everyone. To be able to come out to places like this and expose these kids to a sport they’ve never seen is important.”
Breaking down Keegan Kolesar’s first NHL fight
Eh, who cares about the Vegas Golden Knights losing. There will be other games.
Lake Tahoe? We can discuss that another time.
I want to talk about Keegan Kolesar dropping the gloves and squaring up with Dennis Gilbert early in the first period of Tuesday night’s game.
Though he mixed it up during an exhibition game in 2019, with Arizona’s Christian Fischer, it was Kolesar’s first official NHL fight.
It certainly wasn’t his first hockey fight, as Hockey Fights has him down for 13 AHL fights, and 27 more in the WHL.
Kolesar played for the Chicago Wolves and Gilbert spent some time with the Rockford IceHogs.
The two played in the same game on Nov. 23, 2018, when Kolesar got the best of Hunter Fejes with four or five overhand rights. It was a wild game won by the Wolves, 7-2, during which there were goals from a couple of familiar names in Zach Whitecloud and Nic Hague.
Something fun I found with Gilbert, a somewhat seasoned fighter from his time with the Chicago Blackhawks, is he actually threw blows with current teammate Gabriel Landeskog, back on Dec. 21, 2019.
After watching some of Gilbert’s fights at Hockey Fights, it’s no surprise he instigated Tuesday’s scrap with Kolesar, who had no problem answering the bell.
After racing behind the net in the offensive zone, Gilbert put a little something behind the shove that sent Kolesar into the boards.
As the two moved in front of Philip Grubauer, it appeared Kolesar returned the favor with a harmless nudge as he skated toward the blue line. Gilbert certainly said something, because before the whistle you can see Kolesar look over his right shoulder and detour back to Colorado’s 24-year-old defenseman.
Kolesar, who is will be 24 in April, circled back to Gilbert and with the television camera moving the opposite direction, all we could see are sticks and gloves hit the ice.
“We’ve got a fight here though,” Golden Knights broadcaster Dave Goucher announced, as the cameras zoomed in.
From a distance, you can see the 6-foot-2 enforcers immediately start throwing blows while DJ Joe Green cued up Mary Wells’ “My Guy” from his booth high atop T-Mobile Arena.
From a tactical standpoint, you have to appreciate the fact Kolesar was able to use his right hand to snatch Gilbert’s helmet from his head while keeping ahold of the Avalanche jersey with his left hand and maintaining his elbow in tight to stay grounded on his skates.
Because of the angle, Gilbert took, it was hard for Kolesar to land what appeared to be five punches thrown overall – one from a long-distance view, and four more when we got the up-close view.
After removing the helmet, Kolesar took a quick shot with an overhand right, but Gilbert was able to land two quick rights of his own. Kolesar got a couple of quick left jabs in while holding the jersey.
But Gilbert also did a good job of holding Kolesar’s jersey high enough that he was able to land a couple of jabs, one of them setting up a beauty of a right-hand square in the face. At that point I would have given Gilbert the round, 10-9; but then he turned his back into Kolesar, rather than continuing to stand toe-to-toe.
I know the idea is to land punches, and not get hit, but Gilbert was the instigator with the initial shove into the boards. And again, he clearly said something to trigger Kolesar at the blue line, causing him to turn around. Now you’re going to turn your back? Upon further review, it was a powerful overhand right that probably stunned Gilbert in the first place, causing him to duck and turn away.
Gilbert landed solid shots, but Kolesar took them, stayed composed, landed quality punches of his own, and afterward gave a complimentary tap to the back to say, “Hey, good fight.”
From start to finish – helmet, jersey, punches, left jabs, overhand right, and keeping his jaw in the game – Kolesar gets Round 1.
Round 2 in Lake Tahoe anyone?