Home means Henderson for AHL’s Silver Knights franchise
With two professional hockey franchises that now call Southern Nevada home, Las Vegas has cemented its reputation as a bona fide hockey town.
The Vegas Golden Knights made history as the region’s first NHL team in facing off with the 2017-18 season.
The Henderson Silver Knights of the AHL were officially branded with a name and logo on May 28 as the Golden Knights’ top development team.
The Las Vegas region is now home to teams in the world’s two premier pro hockey leagues.
None more happier with the developments is Golden Knights founder and owner Bill Foley, who brought the Silver Knights to Henderson after purchasing the San Antonio Rampage AHL franchise in February and then relocating it to Southern Nevada at season’s end.
The Southern Nevada community has clearly embraced hockey via the Golden Knights. Foley is in the process of developing six ice pads throughout the community. About 2,000 youths are currently enrolled in youth programs in the region.
“People in Nevada and Las Vegas love hockey,” Foley said. “ We could not be more proud to bring a second professional hockey club to the Valley to accelerate (the growth of the Las Vegas market) even further.”
Foley said the creation of the Silver Knights was to better serve the parent club in terms of player call-ups and player development oversight by Golden Knights staff.
The Golden Knights’ AHL affiliate had previously been located in Chicago for the past three years.
The travel distance has been shortened considerably from 1,739 miles and a three-hour, 46-minute airline trip to a 13-minute drive across town.
Convenience played a major role in the creation of the Silver Knights.
“The way it evolved, having it here in Henderson, is really great for the Golden Knights and their whole system,” Foley said. “The Wolves were great partners. We just needed to take control of our destiny and have it here in the Valley.
“We call guys up, they don’t have to fly in from Chicago. They just drive across town. If someone gets the flu the night of a game, we call someone up and they report to T-Mobile (Arena, the Golden Knights home rink). It’s so convenient and it makes so much sense.
“I’m going to love it. I’m going to Henderson, I’m going to our new arena and watch the Silver Knights play and watch them practice. Instead of watching it on TV or steaming it from Chicago, I can go there myself and watch these guys.”
The NHL and AHL share a dynamic symbiosis. About 87 percent of players on NHL clubs spent at least some time in the AHL.
The proximity to the parent club will present a strong motivational tool for the Silver Knights – a carrot to get to the NHL, if one pleases. That the Golden Knights finished atop the Pacific Division standings in the abbreviated 2019-20 season sets a standard throughout the organization.
Foley called the arrangement a “tie-in to keep everything together, keep the culture together.”
“It’s a fantastic thread we’re weaving between the Silver Knights and the Golden Knights, so we’re all one,” he said. “These guys will aspire to be a Golden Knight.”
The Silver Knights will be the first professional sports franchise to call Henderson home.
The Henderson Events Center, the team’s home arena, was approved May 19 by the Henderson City Council and will seat 6,000 fans. The team is expected to play its first game there in 2022. Until then, the Silver Knights will call the Orleans Arena, located at the Orleans Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas, as their temporary home.
The Orleans Arena seats 7,773 for hockey and previously served as the home arena for the Las Vegas Wranglers of the ECHL (2003-14).
Foley said about 7,600 season ticket requests have already been received for the first season.
The Silver Knights product will be very family-friendly. Tickets start at $10.
The team will have a permanent practice facility and office presence when Lifeguard Arena, located in downtown Henderson, is expected to open soon.
Lifeguard Arenas is similar to the Golden Knights’ practice facility, City National Arena, in Summerlin. Besides office space, the state-of-the-art Henderson facility will boast two NHL-sized rinks, a restaurant, team store and eight additional locker rooms to assist in the expansion of existing youth programs.
Like Golden Knights practices, Silver Knights’ practices at Lifeguard Arena will be free and open to the public.
Silver Knights merchandise has already become a hot item. Fans can purchase Silver Knights merchandise online at www.VegasTeamStore.com or at City National Arena until the Lifeguard Arena team store opens.
Not only will the Silver Knights serve to develop players for the Golden Knights but the Silver Knights will also help further develop an ever-expanding fan base for the Golden Knights in the future.
The Golden Knights already have a substantial fan base in Henderson.
“We couldn’t be more thrilled here in Henderson to be a partner with the Golden Knights family,” Henderson Mayor Debra March said. “We are a very family-oriented community. Having worked with the Golden Knights on a number of issues, whether it’s the Lifeguard Arena and the events center, they are very family-oriented and community-oriented, so having that partnership where we work together and we share values, I just see a very strong partnership going forward in the coming years.
“The people of Henderson are proud to embrace this team and embrace what they bring to this community.”
March said the new arena will be a wonderful addition to the community.
“It will embrace the quality of life that our residents have come to appreciate,” she said. “Not only will it be a hockey arena but it will be an exciting events facility for our community to enjoy and to appreciate and recreate and just enjoy our community. It’s an important part of our DNA.”
The Silver Knights owner is very bullish on the city of Henderson.
“Henderson’s a fantastic city, it’s a growth city,” Foley said. “It’s got a great set of businesses there. People don’t really understand what Henderson is. It’s a fantastic community. It’s a family-based community, so I’m proud we’re bringing our AHL affiliate to Henderson. It’s a family deal. Families can go to our Lifeguard Arena and they can go to our new arena that’s going to be built when it’s going to be finished, and it’s affordable and they can see great hockey games.”
“We’re so proud to be be part of in Henderson. We’re going to be embedded in that community just like the Golden Knights are embedded in the Las Vegas community.”
“Henderson is our home and we’re going to represent Henderson in a fantastic way.”
Down on the farm
The Rampage, which had been in San Antonio for 18 years, had previously served as the AHL affiliate for the 2019 Stanley Cup champion St. Louis Blues. In order to complete the franchise relocation, the Golden Knights will transfer their personnel under contract from Chicago to Henderson while the Blues will transfer their personnel under contract to the Springfield (Mass.) Thunderbirds, the new AHL affiliate for St. Louis.
What can Silver Knights fans expect from their new team?
Foley said he believes the team will field a top-notch product on the ice.
“I really believe we’re going to be at the top of the AHL,” he said.
The Wolves certainly represented themselves well during their three years as the Golden Knights’ top developmental affiliate by winning back-to-back Central Division regular season championships in 2017-18 and 2018-19 and advancing to the Calder Cup Finals in just their second year under the VGK partnership.
Chicago reached the Calder Cup Finals in 2019 with a 44-22-6-4 regular season record (.645 winning percentage). The Wolves defeated the Grand Rapids Griffins (Central Division semifinals), Iowa Wild (Central Division Finals) and San Diego Gulls (Western Conference Finals) before ending their playoff run with a loss in five games to the Eastern Conference Finals champion Charlotte Checkers.
The Wolves were 27-26-5-3 (.508 winning percentage) after playing 61 of 76 regular season games before the COVID-19 schedule pause in 2019-20. Chicago was in fourth place in the Central Division standings but just three points out of third place.
Wolves head coach Rocky Thompson signed with the Golden Knights organization in June 2017 after leading the Windsor Spitfires of the Ontario Hockey League to the Memorial Cup championship a month earlier.
He’s had a major impact in hemming the Wolves’ success in Chicago.
The 42-year-old Calgary native is very familiar with the AHL after appearing in 566 regular season games while compiling 1,919 penalty minutes rank 10th on the league’s all-time penalty-minute list.
“It’s been great,” Thompson said of the bridge between the NHL and AHL. “The success of the Golden Knights franchise and how they run things with the coaching staff and our communication with them, it’s been great for us. That’s translated into our success. It’s a great relationship and it’s growing stronger every day.
“I think Vegas has done an outstanding job of identifying free agents and identifying drafted players who are going to translate at the professional ranks and hopefully onto the Vegas Golden Knights team. It’s a pleasure working with them.”
What do the Golden Knights have in the player development pipeline?
The cupboard appears to be quite full at the moment.
Eight of the 12 players selected in the Golden Knights’ inaugural 2017 draft class are still in the organization. Six of them played in the AHL last season.
Forward Cody Glass (first round, sixth overall) and defenseman Nic Hague (second round, 34th overall) combined to log 77 NHL games between them on call-ups from Chicago last season.
Forwards Jake Leschyshyn (second round, 62nd overall), Jonas Rondbjerg (third round, 65th overall), Lucas Elvenes (fifth round, 127th overall) and Ben Jones (seventh round, 189th overall) all skated for the Wolves in 2019-20.
Golden Knights prospects have already developed a winning attitude.
Glass, Hague and Leschyshyn were part of the Chicago’s Calder Cup Finals runner-up team in 2018-19.
Glass made history last season as the first VGK draft pick to play for the NHL team.
After averaging 1.81 points per game with the Portland Winterhawks of the Western Hockey League in 2018-19, the Manitoba native joined the Wolves following the end of the WHL season and continued racking up points at the next level.
He appeared in all 22 Calder Cup playoff games for Chicago, notching seven goals and 15 points to finish in a four-way tie for the team lead with Curtis McKenzie, Tomas Hyka and Zach Whitecloud.
Glass stuck with the Golden Knights this past season, appearing in 39 games with seven goals and 12 points while logging two AHL appearances with the Wolves.
He scored his first NHL goal in the Golden Knights’ 4-1 win over the visiting San Jose Sharks in the teams’ season opener on Oct. 2, 2019 to earn first star honors.
Hague finished his last junior hockey season in 2017-18 by leading the OHL’s Mississauga Steelheads in scoring and setting a team record with 78 points by a defenseman.
Towering above the ice at 6-foot-6 and 221 pounds, Hague appeared in 97 games for Chicago in 2018-19 during the Wolves’ march to the Calder Cup Finals, recording 17 goals and 26 assists for 43 points.
He recorded a +31 plus-minus rating in 75 regular season games.
Hague split his time in 2019-20 between the Golden Knights (38 games) and the Wolves (21 games).
Glass and Hague both signed three-year entry level contracts with the Golden Knights in 2017.
Glass said it was a special feeling to be the Golden Knights’ first-ever draft pick in franchise history.
“Draft day was a very exciting moment for my family and I,” he said. “To to to an organization like Vegas, an expansion team, so much opportunity for myself. It’s a great organization to start with.
“It’s awesome. There’s a little bit of an adjustment but the coaching staff and the players have helped me feel comfortable and confident in my game. I’m a guy who each year wants to get better and better, so I’m taking it one year at a time. Wherever I am I’m going to play my heart out and try to develop the best I can.”
Thompson reserved high marks for Glass.
“He’s done a great job,” said Thompson. “It’s not been easy coming out of junior. He’s translated very, very quickly. He’s been a factor in all our games he’s played in. He’s getting stronger. This is what we were hoping for. Cody’s been continuing to improve. He’s exciting. His ceiling is very high. Not only are we excited for ourselves but we’re excited for the potential he has to be an impact player in the National league.”
Elvenes, who represented Sweden in the 2019 World Junior U-20 championships, made his North American debut this past 2019-20 season with 12 goals and 48 points in 59 games to lead the Wolves in scoring. He scored four points in his first AHL game and was later named to the Central Division roster at 2020 AHL All-Star Classic.
Jones appeared in 36 games with the Wolves in his first pro season after amassing 90 goals and 240 points in 260 regular season games with the OHL Niagara Ice Dogs from 2015-19.
He earned a footnote in history as the first AHL player to wear the Silver Knights logo on his chest after participating in the May 28 unveiling of the Henderson franchise’s new logo and name.
He said it will be “amazing” to represent the Silver Knights.
“That first season was pretty much a Cinderella story for the Golden Knights,” Jones elaborated. “Obviously (winning) the Stanley Cup would have been the best thing but getting to the Finals was an amazing accomplish in itself. I think every record was pretty much broken that year.
“Going forward it’s been three and a bit years and it feels like it was yesterday. Being part of this new franchise, hopefully we can break some new records. In that regard that’s what I’m looking forward to. I can’t wait for it whenever we get back to it.”
More VGK prospects could be making their pro debuts for the Silver Knights in the near future.
Forward Peyton Krebs, a first-round pick in the 2019 draft (17th overall), found his name at the top of the Golden Knights’ top 10 prospects list at the end of the 2019-20 season.
Krebs, 19, racked up 60 points in 38 games last season for the WHL’s Winnipeg Ice and has collected 182 points in his last three WHL seasons.
Forward Jack Dugan, who was selected in the fifth round of the 2017 draft (142nd overall), ranks second on the Vegas prospects list after leading the NCAA in point-scoring with 10 goals and 42 assists for 52 points in just 34 games last season for Providence College. He capped his sophomore season as a top 10 finalist for the Hobey Baker Award.
Dugan, a native of Rochester, N.Y., signed on the dotted line with the Golden Knights on May 11.
It’s possible some of the aforementioned players could earn berths on expanded 28-man rosters should the NHL elect to conclude the 2019-20 Stanley Cup playoffs later this summer.
Vegas team officials remain high on a pair of undrafted defensemen: Whitecloud and Dylan Coghlan. Both have received significant playing time in the AHL the past two seasons.
Coghlan, 22, has posted good offensive numbers from the blue line with 66 points in 133 games.
Whitecloud, 22, logged 16 games with the Golden Knights in 2019-20 after putting up strong numbers with 28 points in 74 regular season games and 15 points in 22 playoff games with Chicago in 2018-19.
The Golden Knights continue to make transactions during the offseason. The NHL club resigned goaltender Oscar Dansk to a one-year contract extension on June 11.
The Swedish international, 26, logged 58 regular season wins and nine shutouts over last three years with the Wolves, including appearances in 21 playoff games. Over that span, he’s appeared in five NHL games with a 2.88 GAA, .915 save percentage and one shutout.
The Golden Knights added another goaltender to the fold when they signed Jiri Patera, a sixth-round pick (161st overall) in the 2017 draft on June 30. Patera, who set a franchise record for the Brandon Wheat Kings with a 2.55 goals-against average, earned the WHL’s Eastern Conference Goaltender of the Year honors in April.
Las Vegas native Gage Quinney, son for former Las Vegas Thunder forward Ken Quinney, who played five seasons with the IHL team from 1993-98, earned a place in hockey history when he became the first native Nevadan to play in a NHL game when he made his debut with the Golden Knights against the Florida Panthers on Feb. 22 of this year.
The younger Quinney, 24, played three games for the Golden Knights in 2019-20, registering one assist, while finishing third in team scoring with Chicago in 2019-20 with 17 goals and 36 points in 46 games.
He finished fifth in scoring on the Wolves in their Calder Cup playoff run with a career best 19 goals and 43 points in 68 regular season games.
Quinney’s hometown debut offered further proof that Las Vegas is a hockey town.
In the meantime, the Golden Knights will add more draft picks to buttress the organization’s future at both the AHL and NHL levels in the upcoming 2020 NHL Draft.
— Phillip Brents
(Sept. 11, 2020)