Toast of the Town & The Island
Turk has always been a media favourite
The Strip - Las Vegas, Nevada
VEGAS RALLIES AROUND THE KNIGHTS
On November 27, 2016 Gerard Gallant and Mike Kelly were fired as coaches of the Florida Panther following a 3-2 loss in Raleigh, North Carolina to the Hurricanes. Media reports showed the two Island natives climbing into a cab van outside the arena for a ride to the airport and a flight back to Miami late that Sunday night. Gallant and Kelly were offered a car service by the Panthers but decided to take their own route no matter how ugly and classless it seemed on the part of the Panthers brass. Just months before Turk Gallant was one of the finalists for the Jack Adams Trophy as the National Hockey League’s top coach. He didn’t win it. John Tortorella took the honours after a banner year with the Columbus Blue Jackets (a team Turk coached in the early 2000’s).
“It’s an award most coaches don’t want to win,” sniped Gallant just a year previous, “You get it and you get fired not long after.”
Despite his druthers on winning the Jack Adams he did get to take the stage in July, 2017 in Las Vegas, his new town and accept it after the most memorable expansion season ever guiding the upstart Golden Knights to an unbelievable first year in the NHL.
The Golden Knights came out of the gate quickly and pulled some upsets to ignite what was going to become a Cinderella season for team made up of cast offs and disappointments.
One writer pointed out the Knights were made up of third line type players who just wanted a chance. No superstars. Well, one in any case who had won three Stanley Cups in Pittsburgh in goalie Marc Andre Fleury who despite his easy going and amiable demeanor wanted to prove himself all over again.
Gallant credited General Manager George McPhee and the scouting staff for putting together a group of fairly young athletes. Vegas probably benefited by being the only expansion team that needed to be stocked with players. The pickings were good despite not many household names selected from the limited unprotected list of the other 30 teams.
“George (McPhee) deserves a lot of the credit for what he put together in the draft and a couple of shrewd moves that got our team first on paper and then on the ice,” said Gallant. “It was up to me and the coaching staff to put it together in training camp.”
The team’s beginnings came on June 21, 2017 with the NHL Expansion Draft and ten trades that shaped the beginnings of the Golden Knights. Las Vegas took one available player from each of the 30 existing teams in the league at the T-Mobile Centre during the NHL awards
The first pick overall was Calvin Pickard, a goaltender from Colorado, who was later traded to Toronto in October. Other notable picks were forwards James Neal from Nashville, David Perron from St. Louis and William Karlsson from Columbus along with goalie Marc Andre Fleury from Pittsburgh. Deryk Engelland was taken from Florida, Jonathan Marchessault from Calgary and Erik Haula from Minnesota.
The Golden Knights were involved in ten trades on June 21st mostly for future draft picks. They obtained Reilly Smith from Florida and obtained goalie Malcom Subban on waivers.
Trades helped fortify the team for the playoff run. Ryan Reaves came from Pittsburgh in February and Tomas Tatar was landed from Detroit near the trade deadline.
The Golden Knights opened on The Strip in dramatic fashion following events just a few days before that shook Las Vegas and the nation when a lone sniper named Stephen Paddock mowed down 59 people who were attending the outdoor Route 61 Harvest country music festival just across the street from the Mandalay Bay Hotel where he was perched. 851 people were injured including 422 by gunfire. Paddock had smuggled an arsenal of weapons into a hotel suite. 24 weapons were found by police that included AR-10 and AR-15 assault rifles. The 64 year old was found dead in his room from a self-inflicted gunshot wound. His motive remains unknown.
Las Vegas needed to start to heal following that unspeakable tragic event and the Golden Knights provided an instant remedy. The first year club became part of the Vegas Strong outpouring from the community. A cause every sports fan could rally around.
Vegas won its first three games including the home opener, 5-2 facing the Arizona Coyotes. The Golden Knights went 8-1 in their first nine games which set an expansion record for best start. October was a good month going 8-3 and a 6-1 home record. That followed with a good November (7-5-1) and an 11-1-1 mark in December (7-0-1 at home).
“In early December I knew we had something special going,” said Turk. “It was just a feeling that this team would do well all year.”
The club record in January was 7-3-2 followed by an 8-5-1 February then 9-5-2 in March and 1-2 in April (all three games on the road).
McPhee was the mastermind who put the team together but credited the whole organization and the city and fans for the best first year season anyone could have imagined. Often hundreds of fans would attend the Knights practices as the fan base got right behind the team from the get go. Everything fell in place to make it one great season. McPhee says there was an intimidation factor for visiting teams coming into town which was the attraction of The Strip, Sin City’s overwhelming attraction. Several teams wouldn’t arrive until game day and depart that night. Some, like the New York Rangers, made sure that they stayed in a hotel away from the bright lights. Inside the T-Mobile Arena the Golden Knights also benefited from their loyal and loud fan base. It also didn’t hurt to have show girls behind the visiting team’s bench for warm-ups.
“Our players got used to it and for the most part didn’t really spend a lot of their free time on The Strip,” said the GM. “Once in a while it was good to get out and take in a show or a concert.”
Vegas being Vegas meant access to many great acts that would perform before Golden Knight games all season.
But it wasn’t all the glitter and glamour that made the club a contender. The players took it upon themselves to become a threat where ever they played.
“We had a really great group of players and coaches,” commented Kelly. “Turk and I were just two of the coaches hat put it all together.”
While it was disappointing not to go all the way and win the Stanley Cup, the Las Vegas Golden Knights coached by Islanders Gerard Gallant and Mike Kelly were the talk of hockey throughout the regular season to the finals as they faced the Washington Capitals. At season’s Turk Gallant was named Coach of the Year winning the Jack Adam’s Award as best coach in the NHL.
The expansion Knights set numerous records for a first year team under Gallant and Kelly & company defying the odds on their way to a 51-24-7 record which gave them first place in the NHL Pacific Division and third overall in the Western Conference.
Jonathan Marschessault led the Knights in scoring with 75 points. David Perron was next with 66 and Reilly Smith was third with 60 points.
Marc Andre Fleury led the Knights goaltenders with a 29-13-4 record with four shutouts and a 2.24 goals against average in 46 games.
Malcolm Subban played in 22 games in the nets with a 13-4-2 record.
Former PEI Rocket goalie Maxime Legace was 6-7-1, while Oscar Dansk was 3-0. Dylan Ferguson played but didn’t have a record.
In the playoffs Smith led the Golden Knights with 5 goals, 17 assists and 22 points which was one more than Marchessault who scored 8 goals in 20 games in the post season. James Neal and Alex Tuch had six goals each. Fleury was dominant in the nets.
The Knights had the best ever record for any expansion team and their success spilled over into the playoffs as they knocked out the Los Angeles Kings in four games then the San Jose Sharks in six and defeated the favoured Winnipeg Jets in five games in the Western final winning the final game, 2-1 as Ryan Reaves provided the winner deflecting a shot into the net mid-way through second period and an unbelievable trip to the Stanley Cup final.
The Knights were 12-3 in the first three series as they prepared for the Washington Capitals. Las Vegas was off for eight days as the Caps battled with the Tampa Bay Lightning in the Eastern final which they captured in the seventh and deciding game, 4-0. Alex Ovechkin provided the winner and Braden Holtby made 29 saves. Both players would play a prominent role in the final.
Coach Gallant stated winning games early in each series was key to advancing thus far and avoiding seven game sets that would wear a team down.
The Knights called themselves the “Golden Misfits” made up of players cast off by other NHL teams who either came to Vegas in the expansion draft the year previous or were traded to the Knights.
The Entertainment Capital of the World was full of hockey fever as the Cup final began on Monday, May 29. The lead changed four times as they Knights held on for a 6-4 victory over Washington. The Knights, who had won both regular season meetings, were tied 2-2 after 1 and 3-3 after 2. The Caps jumped ahead 4-3 in the final period. Reeves tied it and Tomas Nosek scored the winner and an empty netter as Vegas came back. Golden Knights star Jonathan Marchessault was blind-sided by a hit from Washington’s Tom Wilson during the game. Wilson was not subject to any NHL discipline.
Game 2 was decided by “The Save” made by Holtby in the Caps net in the final period which kept a 3-2 lead and final outcome for Washington which tied the series. Brooks Orpik got the game winner at 9.41 in the second. James Neal had two for the Knights.
Washington returned home and won Game 3, 3-1. Holtby made 21 saves in the victory. Alex Ovechkin scored his 14th goal of the playoffs and Evgeny Kuznetsov added another in the second. Nosek provided the only Golden Knights goal. Devan Smith-Pelly made it 3-1 Washington with six minutes left.
Game 4 stretched the Capitals lead to 3-1 in the series as Washington made a statement winning 6-2. It was the first time the Knights had lost three in a row all season. The Caps were up 3-0 after 1 and 5-2 following period 2. T.J. Oshie scored once and set up two others. Kuznetsov had four assists.
Gallant was given the Key to the City by Summerside Mayor Bill Martin in a special Canada Day ceremony that honoured the Island native son by his birthplace. Both he and Mike Kelly were named parade marshal’s for the 2018 Gold Cup Parade in Charlottetown during Old Home Week in August.
The Capitals decided the finals returning to Las Vegas on Thursday, June 7 with a 4-3 victory which ended the Cinderella season for the Knights. Vegas led, 3-2 after 2 but the Caps scored twice in the third for the comeback victory. Lars Ellers had the game winner scoring at 7.37 in the final period.
Ovechkin, who scored his 15th in the playoffs in the final game was named the winner of the Conn Smythe Trophy as the playoff MVP and hoisted the Stanley Cup for the first time for Washington. The Capitals won the last four games to win their first NHL championship in 43 years as a franchise.
Gallant and Kelly and company didn’t hang their head low following the series. Both were convinced it was just the beginning of what could be many great years ahead in oasis town in the desert of Nevada.
Both were the talk of the Summerside and Kinkora, PEI where they grew up. Signs supporting the two Islanders and the Golden Knights popped up a businesses and schools in both communities during the playoffs.
Turk was given the Key to the City by Summerside Mayor Bill Martin at a special ceremony when he returned home in the summer.
One city councillor even proposed a statue be built in honour of Gallant and erected outside Credit Union Place, the home arena of his old Jr. A club the Western Capitals and the PEI Sports Hall of Fame of which he’s a member. Others suggested a street be named after the great coach and former player.
In August Gallant Kelly were the grand marshals for the annual Gold Cup Parade in Charlottetown which attracts thousands each summer during Old Home Week, a late summer PEI tradition.
There were a number of dinners and personal appearances for both on their return home for a few weeks.
Golden Knights hats and gear became nearly as visible as that of the Canadiens, Leafs and Bruins in hockey crazy PEI.
A number of Islanders made their way to Vegas during the season.
The NHL awards were held just days after the final game and to be sure a few Golden Knights were presented with some of the silverware.
William Nylander won the Lady Byng for sportsmanship and ability.
Deryk Engelland took home the Mark Messier Leadership Award.
George McPhee won the NHL General Manager of the Year honours.
The Clarence S. Campbell Bowl for winning the West went to Vegas.
And Gerard Gallant got his due winning the Jack Adams as Coach of the Year.
Turk and Mike were part of a the biggest story of the year in all of hockey.
Not a bad comeback for the two Island coaches who only 18 months previous were unemployed and waiting for a taxi in Raleigh.
Viva Las Vegas!
First head coach of the Las Vegas Golden Knights
A Solid Run at Lord Stanley
Mike Kelly & Gerard Gallant have coached together in Saint John, NB, Florida and now Las Vegas
Gerard Galland received the Key to the City of Summerside, hometown in July, 2018
Gerard, wife Pam and the grand kids
President's Cup Champs & Year End Hardware
A Record Year for a First Year Team
In the end Ovie and the Capitals got to hoist the Cup which was their first in franchise history .
Island fans got right behind Turk & Mike
FROM THE CURB TO THE CUP
The Golden Misfits were fan favourites from Day 1