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Golden Knights know hard work just beginning

Undefeated expansion team set for second home game

by Nicholas J. Cotsonika @cotsonika / Columnist

LAS VEGAS -- Bill Foley sat down on a chair outside the Vegas Golden Knights offices.

"We're all kind of exhausted," the owner said.

And this was the day before the emotional, inaugural home opener at T-Mobile Arena.


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The NHL awarded Las Vegas an expansion franchise on June 22, 2016. At the time, Foley had eight employees in a sublet working on a potential hockey team. In 16 months, an NHL organization rose in the desert: business staff, hockey operations staff, name, logos, uniforms, coaches, players, practice facility.

The Golden Knights held a ceremony to honor the victims and heroes of the Oct. 1 mass shooting Tuesday, then defeated the Arizona Coyotes 5-2 before a crowd of 18,191 to become the first team in the NHL's 100-year history to start its inaugural season 3-0-0.

But the hard work has just begun. The Golden Knights are a work in progress -- from their practice facility, in which offices are still being constructed, to their roster, which has a few short-term issues and lots of long-term needs -- and Foley doesn't want to just be in the NHL. He wants to be a first-class organization, a Stanley Cup champion.

As excited as Foley was for the first home game, he was eager to get it played and, as he put it, "get in the mix."

"Now it's all about game- day experience, interaction with the community, getting this youth hockey program really going," Foley said, looking out the front window of the practice facility in Summerlin, about 20 minutes west of the Strip. "You can see just in the afternoon here. Look at the parking lot. There's people down here skating. We have youth leagues now that all rotate in and out of this facility. It's going to be perfecting that game day. This is the entertainment capital of the world. Let's act like it."

Video: Golden Knights open T-Mobile Arena with ceremony

The Golden Knights will unveil the show they had planned for their opener before playing the Detroit Red Wings on Friday (10:30 p.m. ET; ATTSN-RM, FS-D, NHL.TV). A knight will pull a sword from a stone. The ice will light up and appear to crack with special effects. After that, they'll have five straight home games. They don't play on the road or back to back until Oct. 30-31, when they visit the New York Islanders and New York Rangers.

General manager George McPhee has still nine defensemen on the 23-man roster and three players assigned to Chicago of the American Hockey League even though he said they had earned the right to be in Vegas: defenseman Shea Theodore and forwards Alex Tuch and Vadim Shipachyov. Theodore and Tuch are playing in the AHL; Shipachyov is working out on his own in Las Vegas.

It makes sense for McPhee to be patient. He's focused on winning the Cup in a few years, not winning games for a few weeks, and has to maximize his assets. But Theodore is tied for the AHL lead with five points (three goals, two assists). Tuch has four points (three goals, one assist). Shipachyov, 30, signed a two-year, $9 million contract as a free agent out of the Kontinental Hockey League on May 4 and was expected to be the No. 1 center.

"As the roster starts sorting itself out, there will be a couple of guys that will be back out there playing that are really good," Foley said. "Like, Shea Theodore is really a good player. Shipachyov is still learning the North American system and the (narrower) size of the rink and so on, but he's going to be really good. And Tuch would be on the team. There's just not room for him right now. First game down there, he has a hat trick."

As McPhee works on the roster throughout the season, the coaches and players must continue to come together and establish the Golden Knights' identity, the foundation for the future.

"We've been focusing slowly on adding detail into our way to play to make sure that we are modeling ourselves the way we want the franchise to look like," forward Pierre-Edouard Bellemare said. "So it's about not cheating, keep playing for the team, and I think it's going to be the biggest part."

There is a positive vibe around here. Everyone is in the same situation. Everything is new, fresh, exciting.

"If you're happy where you work, then you can work the right way, right?" Bellemare said. "And I think that shows on the ice. Guys are happy to be here. Everybody's impressed by the Las Vegas city, and that makes it easy for us to be able to compete for the team."

Video: Golden Knights erupt for four early goals

That's easy to say when you haven't lost a game. The tough times will be the test, and they will come. But there is a confidence from the top down, and it began before the 3-0-0 start.

People questioned the idea of hockey in Las Vegas; Foley conducted a ticket drive to demonstrate local demand and paid a $500 million expansion fee for a franchise. People write off this team; the coaches and players shrug. In each of their first two games, they trailed in the third period 1-0 and rallied to win.

"Everyone has something to prove, and we have something to prove as a team," defenseman Brayden McNabb said before the home opener. "We're probably underdogs all year, so it's a matter of everyone playing their best. You treat it as if you're on any other team. You play to win every game."

What was that Foley said about the knight culture he wanted his team to embody? Never give up? Never give in? Always advance? Never retreat?

"They believe they can win every game, which is great," Foley said. "They don't feel like they're an expansion team."

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