Defenseman Brayden Pachal has had a year of significant firsts: first NHL point, first full season as captain of the Silver Knights, and first AHL All-Star Game.
After starting the year with the Henderson Silver Knights, his strong defensive play helped him become one of head coach Bruce Cassidy’s dependable callups to bolster the ranks of the Vegas Golden Knights.
With Game 5 came another significant first – his NHL playoff debut.
But he didn’t have much time to prepare for his first playoff appearance. He found out that he’d be joining the Golden Knights for their fifth game of the series against the Winnipeg Jets shortly after warmups, just 20 minutes before he would take the ice for in-game action. But Pachal thinks the lack of forewarning was a positive.
“I think it happened so quickly that everybody [in the locker room] just said “play your game.” Honestly, I think that was beneficial for me,” he said.
“I didn’t have to think about it the whole day and soak in the nerves. Just another game, just go out there and do your best. I think it worked out well.”
It worked out well for Pachal’s friends and family, too, despite the short notice. As soon as the game concluded, he was greeted by a flood of congratulations from those tuning in at home.
“It was amazing, I had tons of texts. It probably took me a full day to get back to everybody. It’s super cool, any time you get a really meaningful game like that nationally televised, so everybody’s watching,” he added.
And in a moment where everybody is watching, it was up to Pachal to rely on his practice and preparation to deliver in the moment. Cassidy did not shy away from deploying him in the regular season, with Pachal averaging 16:30 minutes per game over 10 appearances. But Game 5 in the playoffs is a different story.
Additionally, he had not played in an NHL game since April 11, a regular season 4-1 victory over the Seattle Kraken. But despite the brief time away from on-ice action, he looked – and felt – completely comfortable in the game.
Pachal attributes that feat to the work ethic shared by the entire organization, as well as the training and coaching staffs who have been keeping them in game shape.
“Obviously, credit to the staff for keeping us in shape, because I didn’t play for a couple of weeks going into that game, and I felt right at home. It was good.”
“We all do the work that we need to do to stay in shape so whenever our game gets called on, we’re ready to go.”
That preparation paid off. Pachal logged 11:45 minutes of ice time and the Golden Knights defeated the Jets, 4-1, to win the series and advance to the second round. With that victory came the chance for Pachal to participate in one of hockey’s most valued traditions: the playoff handshake line.
“The handshake line was super cool. I’ve been watching that on TV my whole life,” he said.
“It’s so meaningful to move on to the next round – and obviously those guys are pretty upset not being able to chase their dreams of a Stanley Cup. So it was pretty cool to battle them, and it’s really important to show that respect after.”