LAS VEGAS (AP) — When Gerard Gallant was introduced as the first coach in Vegas Golden Knights history, general manager George McPhee said Gallant had an outstanding reputation for getting the best out of his players.
Seventeen games into their inaugural season, the Golden Knights (10-6-1) are in second place in the Pacific Division with 21 points and are emerging as the hottest ticket on the Las Vegas Strip because Gallant has been able to blend two dozen personalities and produce an exciting brand of hockey.
“With hockey players, they’re natural guys, they make friends quickly,” Gallant said. “They’re all from small communities. They come together and they’re having fun. Everybody came from a different team, enjoying each other (and) they got to be friends real quick.”
The Knights opened the season 8-1, and responded impressively after their first extended road trip that saw them go 1-4-1 by dominating a red-hot Winnipeg team last Friday at home. The win improved Vegas to 7-1 at T Mobile Arena, where they’re averaging 17,852 fans.
Gallant has always insisted he knew he had a good mix of talent and that it was simply a matter of letting the players build team chemistry. The 54-year-old soft-spoken coach recently conceded he has been a bit amazed by just how successful his Knights have been.
“I’m surprised that we’re playing as well as we’ve played,” Gallant said.
Gallant said it’s come down to his main expectation: compete at a high level every time you step on the ice, something he figured he would get from this group since most of the players arrived via the expansion draft.
“They had a little edge,” Gallant said. “They weren’t excited with being the expansion player, but I think when they got to Vegas and seen what we had to offer here, and when they’ve seen the facilities, when they’ve seen the organization and they know what’s going on — every player is real happy to be here.”
Knights center Jonathan Marchessault played for Gallant in Florida and said nothing has changed about his coach, who has always strived to make players feel comfortable around him.
“He wants us to be loose, make plays and have confidence; and I think that he gives us confidence,” Marchessault said. “For a coach, it’s kind of rare. You’re scared to do mistakes. But Turk, it’s not like that. He wants you to try hard and if you do a mistake, at least you do it while you’re trying hard.”
Knights wing Eric Haula also said Gallant has done a good job of creating a stress-free atmosphere by making it comfortable for players to approach their head coach on private matters.
“Sometimes you get a little nervous with head coaches,” Haula said. “Honesty goes a long way. Honesty and a short memory. A lot of players have trouble with coaches who hold grudges and it seems like there is a constant battle. One thing I’ve noticed about Turk and our coaching staff, is that it’s a short memory. I feel like the vibe here is a good mixture of having fun and then knowing when to be serious and knowing when to be hard on guys.”
Gallant said by now everyone is familiar with his personality and appreciates the fact he can be easygoing as long as they understand their role.
“Just come and do your job, work hard … and come ready to play,” Gallant said. “When we come to the game, that’s our job. We’re here to play a 60-minute hockey game, or a 65-minute hockey game, whatever the case, and let’s work hard and do the best we can.
“You can’t come to the rink every day being miserable. I want my guys coming here with a clean slate every day. We don’t worry about what we did yesterday, we worry about what we’re going to do tomorrow and the next day. We know we got a long way to go and we know if we let up one bit we’re not going to win hockey games. If we continue to play the way we’re playing right now, then we can beat any team, any given night.”