The second year of VGK University presented by City National Bank concluded Friday at T-Mobile Arena ahead of the Vegas Golden Knights game against the Winnipeg Jets. The five-part series that taught fans basics of skating, playing hockey and understanding the game was organized and operated by Director of Hockey Operations Misha Donskov with help from AT&T SportsNet Analyst Shane Hnidy.
Fans were treated to an hour on the ice at T-Mobile Arena before every session as Donskov and Hnidy led them through drills to improve their balance and control on the ice. Many of the skaters in the program were new to being on the ice but, after attending multiple sessions, participants became much more comfortable on their skates.
"I thought it was outstanding to see them learn and grow," said Donskov. "Our fans really got a lot out of it and it was a lot of fun for me and Shane."
Rather than just demonstrating a drill and watching the fans go through it, Donskov and Hnidy gave each participant individual attention to make sure the time on the ice was not wasted. Making those personal connections with people so passionate about the game was one of the most rewarding parts for Hnidy.
"The engagement with people that came in for VGKU was fantastic," Hnidy said. "We never just sat back and went through it. I felt there was always a connection and that's what makes it really important."
Each session allowed stick-and-puck time on the ice to give fans the experience of scoring a goal on the same ice as their Vegas Golden Knights. But when the fun of hitting the back of the net was over, students traded in their skates for workbooks as they joined Donskov and Hnidy for the classroom portion of each session.
The time in the classroom was treated like a team meeting that the Golden Knights would have with coaching staff as they prepared for a game. The five installments of VGKU focused on different subjects that gave each fan an understanding of a specific aspect of the sport: hockey 101, creating offense, defensive strategy, special teams and a day in the life of a hockey coach. Donskov said fans love the team and the sport so much that adding the higher level knowledge of hockey will only enhance their experiences as Vegas Golden Knights faithful.
"It starts with Bill Foley, George McPhee and the direction of the organization," Donskov said. "We want to be engaged in the community so we can get to know our fans and educate them about our great game. It's something we take seriously and we're passionate about giving back."
Hnidy added being exposed to the intricate details that make hockey such a unique game will allow fans to look at the game at a deeper level than just goals and saves.
"You want to show them the game at different levels," said Hnidy. "These are people who are passionate about the game and they know a lot about it. But when you show them those extra little details, you see them start to recognize different things. When they watch a game now, they'll watch with different eyes."
Fans that attended VGKU would only get out of it what they put into it. In true Golden Knights fashion, every participant in each session was fully committed to having the best experience possible and that's what VGKU is all about. That kind of passion is something that came as no surprise to Donskov.
"We're fortunate to have the fans that we do and the support that we do for this organization," Donskov said.