When the Vegas Golden Knights traveled to Denver on Sunday for their game against the Colorado Avalanche, they were greeted by a light snowstorm that coated the city with dusting of snow. That's not breaking news, or even news.
The news that got several Golden Knights players excited, and even a little jealous, was that snow fell in Las Vegas as the team went on the road. The city the Golden Knights call home enjoyed a brief snowfall that hardly stuck around long but falling snow in Las Vegas triggered pleasant memories for the players.
"The snow got me excited until I got home, and it was all gone," Nate Schmidt said. "It was really cool to see all the photos from neighbors all excited with their kids playing in the snow."
The St. Cloud, Minnesota, native is no stranger to winter precipitation as he spent his childhood where winters of 40+ inches of snow are expected. Schmidt said he would skate for hours every day after school when he was in fourth grade even as snow would descent on the frozen ponds.
"It was so cool when it would snow so hard that you couldn't even really see the rest of the guys on the ice," said Schmidt. "You rely on people yelling at each other to make a play. Those were some of my favorite days."
While Schmidt saw his fair share of winter weather in Minnesota, teammate Alex Tuch would be the first to say that the snowfall in Minnesota pales in comparison to that in his hometown of Syracuse, New York.
"Let me just start out by saying that Syracuse is the snowiest city in the country with a population over 100,000 so I have had several winters with a lot of snow," Tuch said.
Tuch's outdoor hockey experience didn't come on frozen ponds but rather on a backyard rink built and maintained by his father, Carl.
"My dad built an ice hockey rink in our backyard from when I was three-years-old until I was in college," said Tuch. "For 18 winters he built that ice rink in the backyard and it changed over the years. It was always my home ice."
The Tuch rink came to be a hub for outdoor fun among Tuch's peers. He recalls his father spending entire days outside battling the cold to get the ice ready for an afternoon skate and he said that he'll always appreciate the work his dad did to bring magic to the backyard.
"There were mornings where my brother and I would get up early and take a quick 15-minute skate before school. There's nothing better than that," Tuch said. "You're out there because you love skating, you love playing hockey and it's giving me chills just thinking about it."
As Tuch and his brother, Luke, got older and their hockey skills developed, the Tuch rink transformed from just a sheet of ice to the ultimate backyard paradise. After a couple of winters, two-by-fours became boards and, when those rotted away, larger planks were set up at knee-height to keep pucks in play. When those became musty and damaged from glances from countless pucks, the Tuchs brought in plastic boards to make the outdoor hockey experience state-of-the-art.
Tuch said he and his brother would skate until the weather made outdoor ice impossible and, as the snows melted, the family would go "puck hunting" to round up the hundreds of pucks that wound up in snowbanks around the property. Those are the memories that Tuch said still bring him joy as he lives his dream in the NHL.
"My friends still remember it and, when we reconnect, they say 'Remember when we used to skate in your backyard?' The number of pictures and videos my parents took, they were smart in that way," Tuch said. "We're able to hold onto those memories. I don't even know how many people learned how to skate on that backyard rink. I'm extremely blessed to have a dad that loves hockey so much that he built an ice rink in our backyard."
Like Tuch, Schmidt looks back on his time on the ponds playing hockey as a lifelong memory that fostered his love for the sport.
"That's what the sport was built on," Schmidt said. "Nothing feels better but also worse than when you can't feel your fingers and toes and you have to run inside and stand by the fire in order to feel your limbs again. That's the kind of thing that makes it fun. You're around buddies and you're not worried about whether your phone's going to work or what you have to do the rest of the day besides being on the ice having fun."