We had to wait a lot longer for this day last season. We had to wait months longer, in fact, as the American Hockey League season was pushed off into February amid the COVID-19 pandemic. And when the brand new Henderson Silver Knights took to the ice at a brand new Lifeguard Arena in late January for their first training camp, the stands were empty and caution was a top priority.
Ten months and a first-place regular season finish later, Head Coach Manny Viveiros and the Silver Knights arrive in Henderson to gear up for Season 2, and with greater expectations.
“The anticipation for getting started is the biggest thing for us. We can’t wait to get going and get our guys together,” said Viveiros, who led his team to the AHL’s second-highest win total in his first season in the league.
“Kind of like last year, it’s going to be compact again. Right away we have two practices and then our first exhibition game. Then it’s two more exhibition games on the weekend and it’s right into the regular season, which is good.”
With circumstances far closer to normal than a year ago, training camp will feature more players this time around, especially when the Vegas Golden Knights have finalized their own roster and sent the final compliment of prospects across town. Still, training camp will feel like a mad dash with Opening Day at the Orleans Arena just nine days away.
That condensed timeline makes it all the more valuable that, despite the fact that the first day of camp often feels like the beginning of the journey, many players on the ice have been back to work for quite some time. Of the 26 players announced on the training camp roster, 21 took part in the first two weeks of NHL camp with Vegas.
“The biggest benefit for us is that most of our players are here already and they’re training with the Golden Knights,” said Viveiros. “We use the same systems and everything else. Basically, our training camp has already started.”
That also means a head start for Viveiros’ staff, with assistant coaches Jamie Heward and Joel Ward also on the ice at City National Arena the past two weeks, as well as Goaltending Coach Fred Brathwaite. The Silver Knights staff was also behind the bench during Golden Knights Rookie Camp and the Arizona Rookie Faceoff.
While 18 players in camp spent time in Henderson last season, several of last year’s significant contributors have gone elsewhere, like Danny O’Regan, Dylan Sikura, and Ryan Murphy. Those players had a heavy impact, but Viveiros believes the Silver Knights responded with the right additions during the summer to be a better team, such as three-time AHL All-Star Derrick Pouliot.
“I think the new signings we made this year certainly can replace some of the scoring punch, but I think we also want to see everyone again develop and take that next step this season,” said Viveiros. “All of our first-year players are now second-year players, and I think it’s a great opportunity for some of those guys to step up and earn some of those extra minutes on the ice.”
Some players have already begun to make those impressions. Daniil Miromanov scored three goals with Vegas during the NHL preseason, and Paul Cotter scored as well and earned praise from the coaching staff. Golden Knights Head Coach Pete DeBoer stated that Kaedan Korczak looked to have sure potential to play in the NHL, stating it was a matter of when and not if.
“Those are our kids and you want to see them having the best possible opportunity to get to that next level. What I’ve seen so far of our players last year who had a chance to play NHL games is that they’ve all fared well and done a really good job,” said Viveiros. “That’s all we can ask is for them to keep going and hopefully they can take that next step, whether it’s this year or next year.”
The staff evaluating training camp will have a new member this season. New Silver Knights General Manager Tim Speltz, who has worked in hockey at the WHL or NHL level since 1990, will lead the staff to put together a roster that can compete for a Calder Cup at the end of what will be a full-length season, featuring the grueling schedule that comes with it.
“It’s really good for us to have that sounding board,” said Viveiros. “Tim’s a great sounding board. He’s been in this game a long time, and I’ve known him a long time. He’s a really good hockey mind, and it’s good to have someone up top who is an extension of what we do and can help us with our club.”