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Gerard Gallant eager to get started with Golden Knights

Assistant with Canada at World Championship ready to hit ground running as first coach of Vegas

by Brian Hedger / Correspondent

COLOGNE, Germany -- Gerard Gallant's smile has returned, along with his whistle.

That's not by coincidence, because those two things are intertwined in his life now. On the ice at a practice rink is where the first coach of the Vegas Golden Knights loves to be, and now he's back there, nearly six months after the Florida Panthers fired him Nov. 27.

Gallant is a coach again and he couldn't be happier.

He's serving as an assistant with Canada at the 2017 IIHF World Championship and will then head to Las Vegas, where an expansion team awaits. The Golden Knights have two players under contract and will add more players at the NHL Expansion Draft. The results of that will be revealed June 21.

That's exciting, but all Gallant really wanted after the Panthers made their decision was another coaching opportunity.

"The first two weeks were real tough, to be honest with you," Gallant, 53, told "It stayed tough, really, until the next job, because I loved it there. Our team was going in the right direction, and I was happy. When I got let go, it really hurt."

What stung most was the brevity.

Video: Gallant on being named coach of the Golden Knights

Gallant was 22 games into his third season with the Panthers, and they were 11-10-1. They also were coming off an appearance in the Stanley Cup Playoffs in 2016 and had a team built around young talent.

As Gallant hustled off in a taxi the night he was fired, his mind whirled trying to make sense of what happened.

"I'd seen success with that team and that organization, so it was moving [forward]," he said. "But it's like they always say … it might bother you a lot at the time, but you look back and say, 'You know what? It opened the door for something else. And something else came up.'"

That "something else" is Vegas, which needed an experienced coach who was eager to help start a team from scratch.

Gallant was named coach of the Golden Knights on April 13.

He coached in junior hockey, working closely with young players, and has a 152-140-31 record with four ties in parts of six NHL seasons with the Columbus Blue Jackets and Panthers. Gallant also has a lengthy list of players he helped develop over the years, a skill that will be paramount for success in Vegas.

"He's a tremendous coach and I loved my time with him," said Panthers defenseman Michael Matheson, who's gotten reacquainted with Gallant while playing for Canada at the World Championship. "He just gives his players a lot of confidence. He realizes that you're going to make mistakes but that it's not the end of the world. He's just going to put you back onto the ice because he has confidence in you."

Matheson, 23, speaks from experience, having gone through that very scenario during the 2015-16 season. After Matheson played three regular-season games, Gallant used him in five of six games in Florida's loss to the New York Islanders in the Eastern Conference First Round.

He finished the series with one assist and averaged 21:41 of ice time per game, which was a good building block. He came into this season more sure of himself and had 17 points (seven goals, 10 assists) in 81 games.

"When I came up for the playoffs he put me right in the lineup for Game 2," Matheson said. "That obviously wasn't the safest thing to do, but he still did it and showed a lot of confidence in me. It was a huge learning experience and helped me get my feet wet before heading into this year."

Another young player who thrived under Gallant in Florida was forward Nick Bjugstad, who played for the United States at the World Championship.

"He's one of my favorite coaches ever," said Bjugstad, 24. "I think from top to bottom everyone loved him, whether it was a healthy scratch or the best player on the team. Everyone respected him. He had a young team with us, and it didn't take him long to kind of push us to that next level, the next step. There's no reason he can't do it with the next team."

But Vegas will be different.

Video: Vegas GM George McPhee on 6th pick

Golden Knights general manager George McPhee is charged with building the organization. Gallant, who will get his first look at recently signed Golden Knights forward Vadim Shipachyov in Canada's semifinal against Russia on Saturday (9:15 a.m. ET; NHLN) at Lanxess Arena, will have some input on how the roster is assembled. Then he'll get down to the business of coaching.

Sweden will face Finland in the other semifinal Saturday (1:15 p.m. ET, NHLN), with the bronze and gold medal games Sunday.

"I think it's a great get for Las Vegas," said Tampa Bay Lightning coach Jon Cooper, who's coaching Canada. "I got to meet Gerard at the [World Cup of Hockey 2016], and that's a big reason he's here with us today. He's extremely knowledgeable about the game, the guys play hard for him and I think he'll do a [great] job in Vegas."

It's a challenge Gallant is anxious to begin, but right now he's concerned with helping Canada win its third straight World Championship gold medal. Then it's off to Vegas.

Once he arrives, a hunt will commence for two things: a house and hockey players.

"It will be a busy time going to Vegas to look for a place to live and get the team together," Gallant said. "It's all going to happen within three weeks. Everything will happen quick."

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