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If you’re a Vegas Golden Knights fan and you woke up Thursday feeling both happy and sad, count yourself in good company. None other than Jack Eichel had the same emotions.

One year ago, on June 13, 2023, the Golden Knights were crowned Stanley Cup champions.

“Yeah, it feels like it's been quite a whirlwind 365 days. I saw this morning that it's been a year since we won. It’s definitely been a life-changing moment for me and I'm sure the rest of the guys would say the same,” said Eichel, from his offseason home on the East Coast. “Just an incredible experience and everything that comes with being a champion. Unfortunately, it's tough to watch hockey now and know that we're no longer the Cup champs, but the goal for all of us is just to get back to the top of the mountain.”

The 27-year-old Eichel had 31 goals and 68 points over 63 games during the 2023-24 season, losing a chunk of time to a knee injury.

Vegas GM Kelly McCrimmon did tremendous work to keep his championship roster together and then added to it at the trade deadline with the acquisition of Noah Hanifin, Tomas Hertl, and Anthony Mantha.

Injuries to key players such as Eichel, Alex Pietrangelo, and captain Mark Stone prevented the Golden Knights from hitting top gear down the stretch and they ultimately fell in seven games to the Dallas Stars in the opening round of the playoffs.

McCrimmon called the early exit a missed opportunity. Head coach Bruce Cassidy felt his team needed a few more games to hit its stride. For Eichel, next season already beckons.

“With last year, it was a shortened summer, and you had some guys that were banged up and you're just trying to gather energy for the few months you have and then come back to camp,” explained Eichel. “It just felt like a whirlwind. I think with the longer summer here, guys will come back energized with something to prove. The cliche saying is ‘you have a chip on your shoulder.’ I don't know if that's what you want to call it, but I think everyone's going to come back motivated and wanting to get back there. When you experience it and you experience how amazing winning is and what that feeling is, it makes it that much tougher when you don't. It makes you want it that much more.”

Eichel is in the midst of a busy summer focusing on getting healthy and ready for next season as well as devoting a lot of time to the charity work he does alongside his day job as a pro hockey player.

In between a daily workout and a planned date with his dogs, Eichel took time to chat with us about his offseason.

Gary Lawless: So, you've been pretty busy, Jack. I've noticed you've done a lot of Best Buddies stuff in the last couple of weeks. First of all, tell me why Best Buddies for you. Why is it the cause that you throw so much of your energy behind? 

Jack Eichel: Well, I think there are a few reasons. As a kid in school when I was younger, it was always something when you have these kids that are in your class, whether it's elementary school or middle school, and you're in school with some kids that are dealing with something and it's completely out of their control. So, I always felt like it was a good thing to do as a kid, just to make them feel included and make them feel as part of it as possible. As I got older, it was actually something that my sister (Jessie Raymond) had a real passion for. She studied special needs education at college, and she was a special needs teacher. So, she devoted a lot of her time to it. 

When I first started playing professionally in Buffalo, I got introduced to Best Buddies and it was just something that I found a real passion for. I got introduced to Anthony Shriver, who's the founder and president of Best Buddies, the foundation itself, what it stands for, and its mission. It's just aligned with a lot of things I had passion for. Service, obviously, is the big thing. So, it happened kind of organically years ago and now, I would say probably it's been seven or so years I’ve been involved with it. My passion for the organization and the Buddies and the people in the organization have just continued to grow. 

It's really cool. I was able to take a seat on the International Board of Best Buddies this year. It was such a huge honor when Anthony asked me to come on as a board member and take on a bigger role. So, it's been a really cool journey. 

I was able to put the roots down in Buffalo originally with the Best Buddies chapter in Western New York and now, being out in Vegas for a few years, this was the first year I was able to develop real relationships. Whether that's having people from Best Buddies at practice and seeing them after or having a few tickets at every game and donating them and getting the chance to meet somebody from Best Buddies after the game and allow them to experience what T-Mobile Arena is like and seeing a hockey game in person. Whether that's somebody with an intellectual disability or, somebody who volunteers their time to Best Buddies and, helps the organization run, there are so many people that are behind the scenes who devote so much of their time and energy to this organization. We want to provide them with experiences of coming to the game and thank them for what they do. It’s been really cool. 

A few weeks ago, they had one of their big, big events of the year. It's actually a bike and a road race, depending on what you want to do. It ends down in Hyannis Port, Massachusetts. It's just a great weekend all in all. For me to be a part of that, obviously it was a huge honor, and it was a lot of fun. They did a great job. 

Lawless: What part did you do? Did you ride the bike or run? 

Eichel: No, no, I didn't. I think I would like to try and do it next year. There are some really cool people that do it and you can ride all different distances, whether you want to do the entire 100 miles from Boston to Cape Cod, or you can do a 5k or 10k run.

Depending on the distance you feel comfortable riding at, it can kind of vary, but no, I didn't. I was just a part of the actual event. We had our opening reception the night before at the JFK Museum in Boston, where there were a lot of people, a lot of sponsors, and some different board members. 

Friday night was their opening event, and then Saturday in the morning, people get up and do the bike ride down to the Cape. Then, there's a big clambake and tent party that goes on. I didn't end up doing the bike ride, but I played golf that morning in Hyannis Port at the Hyannis Port Club which was part of the event. I played with people who are supporting Best Buddies. So, there's a group of people that golf, a lot of people ride, and some people run. There were a whole bunch of different things. Then, capping it off in Hyannis Port and then a gathering at Anthony's place after. It was a great event and like I said, super honored to be a part of it and just want to continue to build relationships and support Best Buddies. 

Lawless: Before we move off Best Buddies, I just want to ask you, why don't you just write a check? Why do you give so much of yourself?

Eichel: Well, I mean, obviously the financial aspect of any organization is important, that allows the mission to continue. It's important to be able to raise money to give people opportunities and keep organizations like that going, but I think that the time and experience aspect of anything is so much more valuable. Just being able to give back, but at the same time, I always find whenever you do things like this, you end up feeling like you're getting something out of it. As crazy as that might sound, you're giving your time and your energy and you're trying to make other people's days and experiences that much better, but I always find that they end up making my day and experience so much better. It's such a pure thing. When you look at it, you think about some of the obstacles and battles that some of these people have gone through in their lives and have overcome. So, I find them just to be such genuine, pure people. I enjoy the time aspect of it more than anything. I think it puts a lot of things in perspective and that's so important just to be able to do that. 

Lawless: It keeps going for you. You've got your hockey camp in Vegas, and then you have your softball game as well. Tell me a little bit about your hockey camp. 

Eichel: So, we're going to do the hockey camp again. Actually, the hockey camp starts on the 13th of July, which is the same day as the softball game. Last year I hosted the camp here in Vegas and it received positive feedback from the kids, the parents, and everyone that was involved. I just feel really fortunate to be able to have so many willing families to be a part of it. That's what makes it, right? If the kids weren't going to sign up and come, then there wouldn't be a camp. So, I thank all the people in Las Vegas who want to be a part of it. Similar to last year, it's a four-day on-ice camp and it should be a good experience for the kids. We have a couple of different age groups. We'll get them a little goodie bag and try to help them out a little bit on the ice. Hopefully, they learn some stuff and have some fun doing it. It's always a great week. I had a ton of fun last year doing it, so it seemed it made a lot of sense for me to try and do it again. 

Lawless: Tell me a little bit about the softball game and what it does for Vegas. 

Eichel: Yeah, it's amazing. It's such a cool event. I remember a few years ago when Reilly Smith asked me to be a part of it and, I didn't really know what to expect. Obviously, I grew up playing baseball and I love the sport. With softball, you get to a certain point where you're not playing baseball anymore. You get a little older and it's a little bit like an old man's game, but everyone enjoys it. It's such a fun sport to play. 

When Reilly had asked me to come back, I think it was the same week of Karly’s (William Karlsson) wedding a few years ago. I was more than happy to play, and I just had such a great experience the first year. I remember telling Reilly that the whole event itself was just done so well, from the way that they handle the game itself and all of us as athletes, everything's done so first class. So, for me, it was something I wanted to do again last summer. With Reilly being traded, he had just asked if I wanted to take over as captain of the team and it just made a lot of sense to do that. Vegas is such a special place to me and what the fans mean to me and what the community means. You see it at a night like that. I think people just get so excited and you forget that it's a bunch of football and hockey players playing softball, but they do such a great job of packing the stadium and making the event what it is. If it wasn't for the community and how great our fans and the people of Vegas are, then there really wouldn't be an event like that. It's a great opportunity for us to not only have a fun experience on the field but to also raise a lot of money and be able to give back. I think that's what makes it so special. 

Click here to buy tickets to the Battle 4 Vegas

Lawless: I know that you're a big classic rock guy. The Eagles just announced they are coming to Sphere. 

Eichel: I had heard Pearl Jam might have been the next residency, but I'm really happy to hear that the Eagles are doing it. Yeah, I would imagine I'll be going to it. You know, that's one of the most popular questions I've gotten since I've been home, “have you been to Sphere for a show?” My unfortunate answer has been no, I have not. So, I need to get over there for a show. I should have seen U2, and I let it pass me. The Eagles are great. Obviously, I love them. So, I’m pumped that they're there. 

Lawless: The move to Vegas, obviously, you finally had a real training camp the season you won the Stanley Cup. I think you guys had a really good chance this year if you had managed to beat Dallas, you probably could have gone on a bit of a roll. You look at your team, are you comfortable with it? Do you think you're going to be a contender again?

Eichel: Yeah, of course. I think you look at the group and you look at the character. There are a lot of factors that go into being a contender. As a team, we check a lot of those boxes, whether that's character, competitiveness, or cohesiveness. There are so many great parts of our team that make us a special group. I would imagine you're going to see a few changes and some names leaving town. That's always unfortunate because we have such a great group. I don't know who will or will not be there next year, but I know the group that is going to be there will be hungry and desperate. You know that Kelly and George are always looking to make it and Bill is always looking to make our team better. As a player, that's the main thing, you can't ask for much more. It's a pleasure to play in an organization that has such a high expectation every year and that's to win. When you don't win the Stanley Cup, it's back to the drawing board and figuring out, okay, how can we get there next season? So, looking at our group, yeah, I love the team. I love the makeup. I love the togetherness and I don't see why we wouldn't be able to get back there. 

Lawless: Winning the Stanley Cup last year and then losing in the first round this year despite being so close. The team lost in Game 7 by one goal, if you didn't know before, I guess you know now how hard it is to win. 

Eichel: Yeah, and that’s probably one of the lessons I learned just coming back after the season this year as opposed to last year, it was my first experience of playoff hockey. It was my first experience and we ended up winning. We didn’t go to a Game 7, but talking to guys after this season, some of the guys that have been through so many runs and won multiple Stanley Cups, I think you just need so much to go your way. I think you need some luck. You need some puck luck. You need some timely goals. There's a lot that factors in and the parity of the NHL is what makes it such a great league. Any team can beat anyone on any given night. This is the course of a seven-game series. Normally, things even itself out. But yeah, it’s just such a hard trophy to win. I’ve been fortunate to have been able to go through that experience last year and learn a lot. I'm fortunate to have gone through the experience this year, I took a lot out of losing as well. I think everyone should be able to learn from what happened and it should motivate us even more.