All in all, the Vegas Golden Knights left the ice at City National Arena pleased with their first day of training camp.
A swift pace in the drills and the Grey-White scrimmage which ended 1-1, good continuity throughout the workout and the presence of fans, many of them chanting the familiar “Go Knights Go” had everyone feeling, dare we say it, normal?
“There’s a real excitement when you start with a new group,” coach Peter DeBoer said. “I thought our energy, pace and attention to detail were all great.”
Nolan Patrick one of the newcomers, was caught off-guard by the energy in the practice rink.
“I thought it was pretty cool,” he said of the fans who showed up and filled most of City National Arena’s 900 seats.
Patrick skated with another newcomer in Evgenii Dadonov as well as Mattias Janmark. All three can play center and Patrick said it’s a nice luxury to have.
“It’s nice to have someone who can be in the faceoff circle if you get thrown out,” he said. “They’re veteran guys who know how to play and ho can camp down low near the net. It was fun playing with them.”
What was weird was not seeing Marc-Andre Fleury or Ryan Reaves on the ice. DeBoer acknowledged it was strange but he also said the franchise wouldn’t be in the contending position it is for the Stanley Cup without the contributions of Fleury and Reaves.
“They helped build this franchise,” DeBoer said.
As for Lehner, he said he will miss Fleury. But he’s also looking forward to sharing the net with Laurent Brossoit, who the Golden Knights signed as a free agent after Brossoit backed up Connor Hellebuyck in Winnipeg.
“He’s a really good goaltender,” Lehner said of Brossoit. “I think we’ll be fine.”
Lehner said he slimmed down in the off-season snd said as he gets older, he needs to adjust the way he plays.
“I just turned 30 and I’ve been playing at big weights,” he said. “I think I need to change my game out there a little bit. But I feel good. It’s going to be a earning thing for me. I’d like to add a few more things to my game.”
In the scrimmage, he made a Fleury-like windmill glove save on Lucas Elvenes, who thought he could sneak one by him.
“It’s not a big deal,” said Lehner, who didn’t disclose exactly how much he’d dropped over the summer. “It’s more about pre-conditioning. I need to be a little lighter.
“My wife likes me a little lighter too.”
For DeBoer, Thursday was especially important. This was the first time in his Golden Knights tenure that he could hold training camp at it’s normal time and have a full compliment of preseason games to prepare for the Oct. 12 season opener against the expansion Seattle Kraken at T-Mobile Arena.
“It’s hard to believe,” DeBoer said. “When I got here, it was the middle of the season. We played a few games and then we were shut down (by the coronavirus). We picked it back up in July, went to the bubble in Edmonton, played a couple of exhibition games. Then last year, we didn’t start until January so it’s been a weird sensation getting back to normal. I’ve got my fingers crossed, like the rest of the world, that we don’t have any interruptions this year.”
But there will be a built-in interruption as the Winter Olympics are scheduled for February. DeBoer is an assistant coach with Team Canada and he likely will have a couple of his Golden Knights players with him in Beijing.
“I expect several of our players will be participating for various countries at the Olympics,” he said. “It’s a tremendous honor, one I’ll be able to talk about with my grandchildren some day.
“Right now, that’s a long way off and I’m focusing on getting our teams ready for the season.”
Three takeaways from Day One of training camp
1. Thompson steals the show. Logan Thompson is the third goaltender on the Golden Knights depth chart. But he was strong in net during the second period of the scrimmage, allowing no goals and robbing three would-be scorers with acrobatic saves for the Grey squad.
2. Kolesar’s strong start: Keegan Kolesar may be the one penciled in to replace Ryan Reaves as the one who “keeps the flies off the honey” to quote George McPhee who used the line when the Golden Knights acquired Reaves in 2018. But Kolesar showed some good hands and scored the White team’s goal in the scrimmage, beating Robin Lehner in the first period. He hopes to secure a bottom-six spot among the team’s forwards.
3. “The Warrior” returns: His teammates refer to him as “The Warrior” and Alec Martinez reminded everyone why when he blocked fellow defenseman Shea Theodore’s shot and the White team bench erupted, banging their sticks on the boards and chanting “Warrior!” out of respect for Martinez, who signed a three-year, $15.75 million contract extension during the summer to remain in Vegas.