Physical distance was the only way the Golden Knights were separated throughout an NHL-mandated self-quarantine period that lasted more than a month. Otherwise, players say they never felt far apart, as teamwide calls and other forms of communication occurred almost daily.
That constant contact came as a particular relief to those who had recently joined the team, like Nick Cousins. The forward had only come to Vegas two weeks before the shutdown courtesy of a trade-deadline deal with the Montreal Canadiens.
After going through both the coronavirus pause and ensuing two-week training camp with his new team, he says he now feels more like a Golden Knight than he did while playing briefly in the spring. “I feel like I’ve been here for the whole season, because the guys have been really good to me,” Cousins says.
He’s not the lone new face. Goalie Robin Lehner was acquired via trade with Chicago on the same day as Cousins’ deal. Defenseman Alec Martinez came from the Los Angeles Kings a week earlier. Even Chandler Stephenson, whom Vegas received in a December trade with Washington, just experienced his first Golden Knights camp.
The July training camp was also coach Peter DeBoer’s first with Vegas. He was hired by the team in January, with players forced to learn his systems on the fly. The Golden Knights did so admirably, rattling off eight straight wins shortly after his arrival and eventually winning the Pacific Division. They report that recent practices have helped to cement DeBoer’s strategies. “It was nice to come back and get in the swing of things,” Stephenson says.
Stephenson stayed in Las Vegas during the pause, rooming with Ryan Reaves. Lehner packed up a few things from Chicago and spent most of the time in Las Vegas. Cousins returned to Canada for a stretch. Martinez opted to hunker down in his LA home rather than a local hotel, but like Cousins, he says he used the time away to become one of the guys.
“It didn’t really matter where we were,” Martinez says. “We weren’t allowed to hang out, so phones and FaceTime and texting and all that went a long way just to keep in touch.”
Almost the entire team returned to Las Vegas for small-group workouts when permitted at the beginning of June and had perfect attendance among veterans at the start of training camp on July 13.
There are no strangers anymore. Everyone on the Golden Knights is united by a common goal to win the Stanley Cup, something they surely discussed during all those hours logged on video chat during quarantine. “I think [everyone] knows how this is a good opportunity for this team, [that] it has a really strong chance of going far,” Lehner says. “Everyone’s been committed.”
This story appeared in Las Vegas Weekly.