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Pickard embracing challenge with Golden Knights

Goalie eager to help create winning mentality in first season

by Nicholas J. Cotsonika @cotsonika / NHL.com Columnist

COEUR D'ALENE, Idaho -- No, goaltender Calvin Pickard did not board the bus in Las Vegas on Monday and spend 20 hours riding 1,100 miles for an event here on Tuesday as part of the Vegas Golden Knights Road Trip. He flew in.

But he flew in from home in Winnipeg, which is about the same distance away that Las Vegas is. He took an hour flight to Minneapolis. Then he took a three-hour flight to Spokane, Washington. Then he took a 30-minute Uber ride to this resort town on the Idaho panhandle.

All voluntarily. All to do media interviews and spend an hour and a half at a public skate and autograph session at Frontier Ice Arena, connecting with fans in a place that will be part of the Golden Knights TV territory.

All with a smile on his face.

"I've never done anything like this before," he said.

That's the fun of it, and that's the challenge.

 

[RELATED: Golden Knights begin bus tour across regionGolden Knights Road Trip Blog]

 

You might think being a goaltender on an expansion team would be one of the worst jobs in the NHL, something to dread. Chances are, you're going to see lots of rubber. That will lead to long nights, and that will lead to a long season.

But Pickard sees a, well, golden opportunity.

He'll be part of a goaltending tandem with Marc-Andre Fleury, who won the Stanley Cup for the third time with the Pittsburgh Penguins last season and has a reputation as a great teammate. The Golden Knights should be better than past expansion teams thanks to more advantageous rules in the NHL Expansion Draft. And they are establishing the NHL in not just another new market. They're establishing it in an entertainment capital that has never had a major-league sports team before. Owner Bill Foley wants them to become the team of the western Rockies.

"It's a new experience for all of us, every staff member, every player," Pickard said as staff members set up for the public skate. "If we go in with an open mind, it's going to be a lot of fun. We're playing in the NHL in Las Vegas, so I think a lot of people would take that. Everybody's going to be really excited for sure."

Pickard has been excited from Day One.

The morning of June 21, he was about to get on the bike at the gym when he got a text from his agent, Ritch Winter.

"Call me," Winter wrote. "I've got something to tell you."

Tweet from @GoldenKnights: Calvin Pickard has new Golden Knights gear.

Pickard knew what it was. The Colorado Avalanche had left him unprotected. TV analysts had been speculating the Golden Knights would take him. He had gotten only a couple hours of sleep with so much running through his head.

Sure enough, Winter was calling to tell him he was going to Vegas. About 30 minutes later, Winter was assured by Golden Knights general manager George McPhee that Pickard would not be flipped to another team.

Pickard had never switched teams before. He had been with Seattle of the Western Hockey League his entire junior career. He had been with the Avalanche organization since they selected him in the second round (No. 49) of the 2010 NHL Draft.

And now he wasn't being traded or signing as a free agent. He was going to be the first pick of a draft on television (because the Avalanche finished last in the NHL last season). He ordered food and had family over to the house to watch the draft and enjoy the moment.

"It's a bit of a shock at first, because I built some good friendships [with the Avalanche] and they treated me really well there," Pickard said. "But at the same time, I was so excited to be part of this expansion team. It seems like they've really put a good team together as well. So ever since that day, I've had nothing but excitement."

Pickard already has visited T-Mobile Arena, serving as the backup when the Avalanche played the Los Angeles Kings there in a preseason game on Oct. 8, 2016.

"The rink is beautiful, and it's right on The Strip," he said.

Pickard already has played for coach Gerard Gallant. He played for Canada at the 2017 IIHF World Championship when Gallant was an assistant.

"He was an awesome guy," he said. "I didn't know I was going to be a Golden Knight at that point, but looking back on it, I'm excited to play for him."

Pickard and Fleury have exchanged texts about when they will arrive in Las Vegas and grab lunch together for the first time. Veterans report to training camp Sept. 14. Soon it will be time to focus on hockey.

"There's going to be a lot of excitement around the team right away, but you have to have a competitive team on the ice to keep building that fan base," Pickard said. "You build through winning. I think that's going to be a big step for us, for sure. I think they've built a really good team right off the bat with a lot of good, young players, and it's going to be exciting to all gel as a team and get that winning mentality as soon as possible and do some damage."

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