SAN JOSE, Calif. - They couldn't look any different. Line up Ryan Reaves, Cody Eakin and Brayden McNabb and the list of dissimilarities is long. Different heights, widths, shades and angles. But Friday night, with the day in the books and a stroll back to the hotel harkening, the three teammates sat jammed on a restaurant couch and the overwhelming impression was of brotherhood.
They were tired and satisfied after a day of eating, drinking and sharing their NHL experience with their fathers. Eakin was telling a story and Reaves was listening with a soft smile on his face while McNabb was leaning in and laughing. Their fathers sat across the table lost in their own reverie. The three Golden Knights sat close bathed in the comfort of siblings. People who had seen one another at their best and worst. Folks who have witnessed one another's pain and glory, broke bread and shared quarters. Family members who have traveled the continent and backed one another up in tight spots.
The Stanley Cup is the hardest trophy to win in sports. It takes 16 postseason wins after a grueling regular season. The physicality of hockey and the requirement of players to perform while injured in order to help their team achieve a championship coupled with unparalleled parity raises the level of difficulty above all others.
Winning comes at the combination of elite talent, coaching and a boatload of good fortune. The team with the hottest goalie and least hobbled roster is often left to hoist the Cup at the end of a two-months-plus war of attrition.
The current version of the Vegas Golden Knights looks to have the pieces required to win a Stanley Cup. They are well-coached, have one of the game's best goalies and the lineup is deep and balanced.
Management has done what is within its control to build a contender. No team is perfect and the executive duo of GM Kelly McCrimmon and president George McPhee will be in a position from both a salary cap and assets perspective to tinker if they determine it's needed./p>
That's the job of an organization - to put a team in a position to succeed by taking care of all the things under their control. Vegas has a top-end organization behind the scenes in terms of both hockey and business operations.
Owner Bill Foley is extremely committed to winning and has charged his employees with leaving nothing undone if it can provide the team with an edge.
This weekend's Fathers Trip falls under this category. Many teams do these events and the Golden Knights make sure it's done properly. The imagination to create special experiences and then the detail in the execution is best in class.
This year's trip included a trek to Vancouver, a visit to wine country and three of Foley's wineries, an NFL game and ultimately two VGK road games.
The itinerary reads like a grand prize in a charity auction. Behind the rope experiences with a major professional sports team. But the reality is it's about togetherness. It's about creating a family atmosphere.
When Mark Stone's dad bonds with Nick Holden's father, the player to player relationship is enriched. A franchise, purchased with cold hard cash, is given veins of human connection.
If a team is going to truly contend for a Stanley Cup, at some point its players must begin to play for one another. The concept is cliché but it must be authentic to bear the fruit of an NHL championship.
What happens to this Golden Knights team from here on out remains a mystery. There are any number of pitfalls awaiting them and finding a way to navigate the rest of the season and potentially four rounds of playoff hockey is the challenge.
Trades might happen. Injuries will happen. But a fabric has been established to hold this group together. They're bound together by experience. Friendship has given way to love. They've become a hockey family and not every team can say the same. They won't come apart under the heat of adversity. In fact, they'll pull closer together and stand back to back.
Like brothers do.