Expansion Vegas Golden Knights hit ice for first time

LAS VEGAS — The expansion Vegas Golden Knights hit the ice for the first time Friday morning to a standing-room only crowd at City National Arena.

Sixty players were divided into four groups for two training camp practice sessions that included a pair of scrimmages.

“We’re a new group, it’s not like you’re coming back to a team like when I was in Florida and 19 of your players are returning,” coach Gerard Gallant said. “This year it’s all new players. I can’t put the face with the name yet. I’m probably going to call them the wrong name a few times on the ice, and they’ll sort of laugh and giggle and we’ll get to know each other and we’ll work hard and have fun.

“I thought everybody worked hard today, it was a good day. As far as I know nobody got hurt, I thought they worked hard and competed hard and did some good things in the scrimmage.”

The Knights play their preseason game Sunday in Vancouver, leaving Gallant little time to build chemistry with the NHL’s first expansion team since 2000. He’ll rely on veterans like Marc-Andre Fleury and Deryk Engelland to lend leadership.

“Leadership is huge for us as an organization, and as a coach,” Gallant said. “I like the veteran players, I like character guys. Fleury has won three Stanley Cups, that’s really important and he’s a really good leader, he’s a good person. It’s important for me and it’s important for our organization to have those leadership guys. The expectation is to come to the rink every day and get better and work hard as a team.”

Fleury said there will be challenges in bringing life to a new franchise, but it starts with communication and chemistry, both of which the former Pittsburgh goalie felt were present before the start of training camp.

“It’s a big challenge, not something I’ve been through before,” Fleury said. “Everything is new and different, but it’s also nice. The guys in the room, the staff that we have, the facilities that we have — everything has been awesome. It’s up to us to have a good camp here and have a good show on the ice in the preseason.”

The 32-year-old Fleury said his only issue personally has been his relocation process, after playing his entire NHL career in Pittsburgh, adding he would much rather stop 100 mph slapshots than unpack boxes.

“I’ve never had to move before, I’ve been lucky with that,” he said. “Moving houses, getting all set up, getting all the boxes from Pittsburgh, getting TVs installed, I don’t know a few little things, but it’s just minor things. The only thing that matters to me is the rink and the ice.”

Meanwhile, Engelland is right at home. He’s lived in Las Vegas since 2003, when he first joined the now-defunct Las Vegas Wranglers of the ECHL. The 35-year-old defenceman said he is ecstatic to play in his hometown.

“And probably more for my family,” said Engelland, who spent the last three seasons with the Calgary Flames. “My oldest boy is five, starting kindergarten this year, and for him not to have to pack up and move and meet all new friends in school, it’s huge. For my wife to be able to stay at work and not have to quit her job, it’s huge for them.”

Then there’s rookies like 20-year-old Keegan Kolesar, who knows how fast the NHL game can be after going through training camp with the Columbus Blue Jackets, who drafted the physical wing in 2015.

“Being a younger guy, sometimes you’re like a deer caught in the headlights,” said Kolesar, who added he has spent time playing X-Box and bonding with several of the 14 other rookies who haven’t turned 21 yet. “The main thing I want to do is come in here and get to know the guys a little bit better and get on a better page with them. I want to play my game and play how I always do. I don’t want to be just some kid going through the motions, I want to stack up well against them.”

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