Thursday, Sept. 21, 2023 | 5:10 p.m.
The first session of Golden Knights training camp ended at around 10:30 a.m., and Mark Stone already put people on notice.
Not even two hours from players returning to the ice for the first time since winning the Stanley Cup three months ago, the Golden Knights’ captain was quick to have a word for doubters.
“We want to have that same chip on our shoulder. A lot of people say we can’t do it again,” Stone said. “We have to use that as fuel to try and get back to where we want to be.”
There’s an obvious excitement around City National Arena with training camp opening today. The time that elapsed since the Golden Knights were the last team standing on June 13 has come and gone.
The attention now turns to the Golden Knights wanting to party again. Which is a far cry from this time last year, coming off their first missed postseason in 2022.
“We’re a confident team. We were confident coming into the season last year. You look at the players we have, it’s pretty ironic that people were writing us off. I almost hope the same thing this year,” Stone said. “I hope people write us off. I hope it gives us motivation.”
It’s difficult to write the Golden Knights off given that nearly everyone from last season is back — sans forwards Reilly Smith and Phil Kessel.
Outside of the competition for the third-line left wing spot, the Golden Knights are banking on the core that won 51 games in the regular season and went 16-6 in the playoffs.
“I’ve always said every team runs its own race, and I genuinely believe that from a personnel standpoint, to the roster makeup, from the genuine chemistry and care this team has for each other,” general manager Kelly McCrimmon said. “We’re excited heading into the season. So are 31 other teams. I think we’ve got reason to have faith in our group and the players we have, and we’re going to put our best foot forward.”
That excitement stems from a healthy roster going into camp. Everyone who skated against Florida is 100%. The exceptions are goalie Robin Lehner and defensemen Daniil Miromanov and Layton Ahac.
Lehner continues recovery from hip surgery and will begin the season on long-term injured reserve.
Miromanov, an offensive-minded defenseman who had six points (two goals, four assists) last season, is not expected to be available for AHL Henderson when the Silver Knights begin their season. Ahac is day-to-day after taking part in last weekend’s rookie tournament in Las Vegas.
Health pending, the Golden Knights feel confident they have the group to run it back. Coach Bruce Cassidy, even if tongue-in-cheek at the time, led a back-to-back chant at the victory parade this summer.
It’s a belief that all teams should have, even as the defending champions, Cassidy said.
“I believe that’s our goal. We’re here to win the Cup. So are 31 other teams,” said Cassidy, entering his second season as Vegas’ coach. “We feel like we’re returning a lot of players that give us that opportunity. We’re in that age frame right now where it’s not just this year, but next year. All those things bode well for us.”
That belief happens because of a healthy Stone, who said he feels great even after two back surgeries in less than a year, as well as a fractured wrist he suffered in Game 5 of the Cup Final before recording a hat trick in the 9-3 clincher.
Then there’s Jack Eichel’s continued growth toward becoming a more elite player. The center led the Golden Knights with 26 points in the playoffs and was also strong defensively.
Going into the season having won is a different mindset than being one of the other 31 teams trying to win. This is seen as an opportunity, Eichel said, to prove themselves that they won it for a reason.
“A year ago, if you rewind to where we were, I think our message was pretty similar. We felt like we had something to prove, not only to ourselves, but around the league, having missed the playoffs the year before,” Eichel said. “The goal shouldn’t change. The goal is still to win the Stanley Cup. That’s the goal every year, and that’s why this is such a good place to play.”
Stone and Eichel echoed that the journey to get to where they ended up is a long one, starting with training camp and building their games throughout the regular season.
And along the way, proving some people wrong.
“Everyone loves their preseason picks. Were we anyone preseason’s pick last year? No,” Eichel said. “I think you come to realize it really doesn’t matter. You go out there and prove yourself on the ice every night, and the ultimate goal of our season is a long, long way away, and I think we learned that last year.”