Eldon "Pokey" Reddick is the best high school hockey coach in Nevada.
"Being the only one, yeah, that's an easy one," he said.
The former NHL goalie is in his third season as coach of Faith Lutheran Middle School & High School in Las Vegas, the first and only high school hockey program in the state.
Like the Vegas Golden Knights, Faith Lutheran is a success story in the desert. The program has grown from having to scrounge up 16 players for each of its two teams in 2018 to having 80 players compete for 40 slots this season.
The program is popular, with fans packing City National Arena, the Golden Knights' practice facility, for varsity and junior varsity games.
And the school is awaiting final qualification for the Chipotle-USA Hockey National Championships. The high school tournament is scheduled for April 15-19 in Omaha, Nebraska.
Craig Thornton, Faith Lutheran's manager of hockey operations, said Reddick is a key component to the program's rise.
"He's a phenomenal coach," Thornton said. "He's lived hockey since he was a little three-year-old kid. He's played at every level. And you just don't want to say to people, 'He made it to the NHL.' Yeah, he made it to the NHL, but the other steps along the way are equally as important if you're coaching."
Reddick played 132 games for the Winnipeg Jets, Edmonton Oilers and Florida Panthers between 1986-94, going 46-58-16 with a 3.71 goals-against average and .873 save percentage. He won the Stanley Cup with Edmonton in 1990, becoming one of 10 Black players to have their names inscribed on the trophy.
"Pokey was better than people gave him credit for," said Hockey Hall of Fame goalie Grant Fuhr, who was Reddick's teammate on the Oilers. "Having him in Edmonton was a great security blanket for us."
In addition to his NHL stint, Reddick enjoyed a lengthy career in North American minor leagues and Germany before he retired in 2002 and settled in Las Vegas, where he played in the old International Hockey League from 1994-96.
It was four years ago when officials at Faith Lutheran, which has students from grades 6-12, asked Thornton, whose son Andrew is now a senior, if he would help form a hockey program after they learned he had helped establish a high school hockey program in Phoenix.
He said he'd be happy to do it under one condition: that Reddick, who had been a fixture on the Las Vegas youth hockey scene for more than a decade, be the coach.
"I knew that he was the only coach I had a desire having my son skate under just because of his enormous experience and, equally important, his demeanor with children and young adults," Thornton said. "When I moved here in 2008, I found out quickly that Vegas hockey wasn't what Phoenix hockey was by any stretch. I started sniffing around town and it didn't take me long to figure out that Pokey was 'the guy' in this town as far as experience and ability and success."
Reddick thought he was finished with hockey when he stopped coaching AAA hockey and stopped conducting private lessons so he could golf and focus on his daughter Zoe's quest to become a professional ballerina.
But when Thornton called with the high school hockey gig, Reddick was ready with a response.
"I was all in," he said. "It was something different, kids could see the game from a different perspective. And somebody has to be first, right?"
Being the only high school team in the state hasn't been easy. Road games are often flying affairs -- even more so this season because several states have paused or canceled youth hockey due to concerns surrounding the coronavirus.
Reddick and his players have traveled to Salt Lake City and Provo, Utah, along with Phoenix, Midland and Odessa, Texas, and Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, for weekend games.
"That's the tough part, when we tell kids, 'Tell your mom we'll see them on Sunday,'" he said. "But that comes with the territory -- travel, travel, travel. I thought I was done with traveling on airplanes like that when I retired."
Not that he's complaining.
"I'm enjoying myself," Reddick said. "The part I like is when [the players] come back and say, 'Thank you, coach.' Put it this way, I get up every day at 4:30 a.m. to go to practice at 5:50 a.m. We have a bunch of kids and parents who are committed, and I don't think I've missed a practice in three years."
The 56-year-old said he's looking forward to having company in the Nevada high school hockey coaching ranks.
He and Thornton envision Faith Lutheran, which receives support from the Vegas Jr. Knights, becoming the lynchpin of a statewide high school hockey league.
The potential talent pool is there. According to USA Hockey, the number of high school-age players in Nevada has increased by 138 percent since 2016, the year before the Golden Knights debuted.
"To try to do the league will take a little bit more time than we thought," Reddick said. "With the success of our school, hopefully the other schools will jump in."