LAS VEGAS (FOX5) -- When the puck drops at T-Mobile Arena on Tuesday night, it will mark year five of the Golden Knights franchise, and for Pete DeBoer, it will mark his third season with the club.
"You know what it feels like, it feels like the beginning of year one with a team you know really well," explained DeBoer. "Any time you go on a playoff run, like we've gone on a couple deep runs here, you really get to know the people in the room, but this is my first real training camp, first real September exhibition season and first real start to a season where we've gotten to take a group right from day one all the way through, so I'm excited about that."
DeBoer has coached the Golden Knights in 78 regular season games, less than a full NHL season, with an additional 39 playoff games in his first two seasons.
"We have familiarity as a group that should give us an advantage and you want to put as many points in the bank as you can early in the season, this is a hard league to make the playoffs in, never mind get to the final four and we cannot take that for granted. Everyone maybe talks about this being a weaker division, I think Seattle is going to look a lot like Vegas did their first year as an expansion team, they're deep and they're a good team. LA has improved, San Jose has improved, we saw them in exhibition so we can't take anything for granted."
"Unfortunately, we don't get to start where we ended last year, we have to start right at the beginning again, so that starts in training camp, you start building your foundation, you start earning the right to play in the playoffs and then you hopefully go on a long run. I think for me there is great lessons from Tampa's Stanley Cup wins, they knocked on the door for eight years. Everyone said they wouldn't break through, kept tweaking, kept adjusting and now are back-to-back champions and no one will ever say that again. We're going to keep knocking on the door, but it starts with laying our foundation here in camp and earning our spot in the playoffs."
The 2021 offseason has been one filled with change for the Golden Knights. Marc-Andre Fleury and Ryan Reaves were both traded to Chicago and New York, respectively, leaving just seven players on the roster from that incredible inaugural year during the 2017-18 season.
"We've got to re-create our identity as a team," explained DeBoer. "One thing that walked out the door this summer was some big personalities, Ryan Reaves, Marc-Andre Fleury, in the past Nate Schmidt, so the one thing that our identity here in Vegas has been built on from day one, regardless who has sat in that dressing room has been we want to come and play fast and be physical and be on top of people and outwork people and that's something that has to stay consistent. It's on our group to keep carrying that torch."
With Fleury now a member of the Blackhawks, Robin Lehner is the undisputed number one netminder for the Golden Knights. Over the course of his first two seasons with Vegas, Lehner has played in 22 regular season games, winning 16, losing in regulation just four times. In the postseason he has started 19 games, winning ten.
"My conversations with Robin are the same with any player or coach that is replacing a really popular guy. You're not going to talk people into getting behind you, you got to win games, we've got to produce and that's for all of us. There are a lot of popular players that have moved on from the organization that did a lot of great things here and the guys following them at all positions, including coaching, we have to win games and win over the fans."
Regardless who is in the net or on the ice for the Golden Knights, DeBoer explained the goal and expectation is once again to win the Stanley Cup.
"For us it's just starting that climb again to the summit. We've seen the summit, close enough to touch it here over the franchise history but haven't got there yet. It starts tomorrow night with the first step and that's showing up and playing a good hockey game."
"Just exciting, you get a little butterflies, especially in this building, it's hard not to. The fans are so exceptional, the energy they bring, it still gives you goosebumps as you walk out. i think a season opener is even more important. The guys get through exhibition, but it's nothing like playing for real and the puck drops for real."