HENDERSON, N.V – Robert “Butch” Goring played 16 seasons in the NHL and served as a head coach in the league for four more. He additionally served as the head coach of the Las Vegas Thunder for their first season in 1993-94.
“Bob Strumm was the general manager and we got together in putting this team together. Bob obviously did a little bit more than I did. We felt like we had a really good hockey team,” he said of the team’s wildly successful first season.
The Thunder finished that year with 115 points in the standings and won the Huber Trophy, the IHL’s version of the President’s Trophy.
“We got a little bit lucky with Radek Bonk and Ken Quinney and Patrice Lefebvre – they played incredibly well together, even better than we anticipated. But it was a really fun season because the smaller rink was good for our team. Quinney had a tremendous year in Vegas, he scored over 50 goals. That was one of the best lines in the IHL.”
The Vegas Golden Knights have continued that success as a Vegas hockey franchise, making a Stanley Cup Finals appearance in their first year as a franchise. The team currently stands first in the Pacific Division and fourth in the NHL with 58 points. But what that success looks like on the ice, and how to coach a team to that success, looks quite different.
“The game has changed – I still think the red line was in at that time, I’m not exactly sure when the red line came out. You see the defensemen pinching all the time, they think about getting up the ice more than we did back in the 90s. You simply can’t interfere away from the puck anymore like you used to, so the approach has to change,” Goring said.
“So obviously the [Knights] fans in Vegas, who are really passionate fans, would see a different style of play – but at the end of the day, what do fans want to see? They want to see the team succeed.”
That success not only helps to draw fans into the building, but also develop a community interest in hockey, something Las Vegas has been steadily building on since the arrival of the Thunder.
“The fans adored them – I think we were really the first to call Nevada home. We did a lot of appearances – schools and hospitals and stuff. I think any time you get professional athletes moving to your city, and you really haven’t had that much exposure to them, fans take on a different interest.”
“And a lot of people who are born and raised in Vegas, then they come to a hockey game and they bring their kids. I’ve done hockey schools in Vegas back in the 70s, so there was always a lot of interest in hockey. And when you have players that you can kind of idolize a little bit, they had tremendous success. That’s a noble progression,” Goring added.
“I feel really good about the success that we had on the Thunder, and I think it’s great that they’re honoring them. It was a great franchise. I still have a couple of our warmup jerseys from the Thunder days, so they’ll always have a place in my world, and I’m happy for the people who put in a lot of time. Not only the people on the ice, but those that put in a lot of time for the organization, selling tickets, and the general manager, and the owners.”
“The only thing I would add – we had the best record in the IHL, and it was disappointing we didn’t go on and win the whole thing for Vegas. It’s the only regret I have from my time there.”