Expansion team honored after reaching Final, uniting city following shooting
by Nicholas J. Cotsonika / NHL.com Columnist
June 20th, 2018
LAS VEGAS — It was the epilogue to the fairy tale of the 2017-18 Vegas Golden Knights.
Three hundred sixty-four days after assembling their first roster at the 2017 NHL Awards and NHL Expansion Draft at T-Mobile Arena, they took center stage at the 2018 NHL Awards presented by Hulu at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Las Vegas on Wednesday.
Four first responders and four survivors of the mass shooting on the Strip on Oct. 1 stood at one point with four members of the Golden Knights who won awards: general manager George McPhee, coach Gerard Gallant, center William Karlsson and defenseman Deryk Engelland.
The Golden Knights became Las Vegas’ first major league sports team, united the city in the aftermath of Oct. 1, shattered records for first-year teams in the regular season and made the Stanley Cup Final, losing to the Washington Capitals in five games.
“It was a dream season right till Game 5,” Gallant said. “It was an unbelievable year. Obviously nobody expected us to come out of the gate like we did. Nobody expected us to be in the playoffs. We had a great team. We had a great season. Fell a little bit short, but I’ll go home this summer very proud of our group and the organization.”
McPhee won the NHL General Manager of the Year Award a little more than four years after the Capitals fired him as their GM. Though the Golden Knights had more favorable rules than previous expansion teams did, McPhee and his staff took advantage of them and exceeded expectations. They did a masterful job of collecting assets for the long term while building a team for the short term, finding players with upside, speed and character.
“It was really hard for me to believe, to be honest with you,” McPhee said. “Every month, I was like, ‘Boy, is this really happening?’ As I’ve said a number of times, I had my fingers crossed all year hoping it wouldn’t turn to dust. And each week, we kept winning. And then we won a round, and then won another round, and then won another round. And I was like, ‘This is too good to be true. We might win the Stanley Cup.’ And then we didn’t. And then you come back down to earth. But it was just an extraordinary year in all of our lives.”
Gallant won the Jack Adams Award as coach of the year after getting fired as coach of the Florida Panthers in 2016-17, after being a finalist for the award with Florida in 2015-16. He brought together players discarded by other teams by keeping an open mind, putting them in positions to succeed and boosting their confidence. Nick Robone, the UNLV assistant who was shot Oct. 1, was visited by Vegas players in the hospital and got to break down video with Gallant and his staff as he recovered, made the announcement.
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