I hung up the phone, and all I could see was water.
I had just finished talking to Doug Armstrong, the general manager of the St. Louis Blues. He told me that, despite his best efforts, the team wasn’t going to be able to protect me in the upcoming expansion draft.
This was last June. I was on my boat, in the middle of Lake Memphremagog in southern Québec.
It’s a beautiful lake that sits just a 45-minute drive from where I grew up Sherbrooke. I used to spend my summers near there as a kid. I remember thinking, if I ever made it as a hockey player, that I would buy a house there.
When I hung up the phone, I just … I sat there. I sat on my boat in complete silence — on a gorgeous summer day — for two hours. I thought back to the day almost exactly 10 years earlier, when the Blues selected me in the first round. I thought about all the wonderful times I had falling in love with St. Louis. I thought about how grateful I was to the owner, Tom Stillman, who loves that club more than most people know. And I thought about how much I would miss that city.
It was unusually quiet on the lake that day. I didn’t hear much of anything — no boats or children swimming — it was just me and my thoughts.
I knew Doug had done everything he could to keep me, but it was a tough situation. I called my mom and dad on my way back in from the lake. I told them what was going on and that it wasn’t 100% clear yet whether or not Vegas would pick me in the draft the next week.
I docked the boat and walked up the steps to my home — the first home I’d ever bought.
And I thought about where my next home might be.
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Just a few days later, Doug called me again. This time I knew exactly what it was going to be about.
He said, “Hey, David, wanted to let you know that we couldn’t make a deal to keep you … Vegas is going to pick you tomorrow in the draft.”
That’s when it felt real. Like, Alright, Vegas it is then. It still hurt to hear. I thought I had done enough in the regular season to warrant a spot on the Blues for this year. But I told myself to stop thinking like that, and that I had my time to be disappointed already.
I turned the page that day. I went and looked up some news on the Golden Knights. I knew that Marc-Andre Fleury was most likely going to be taken by Vegas. And I knew Flower pretty well from my time in Pittsburgh, so I texted him.
“Vegas?” I wrote.
“Vegas!!!” He replied.
And I slowly started to get more and more excited. I knew Gerard Gallant was going to be the head coach. Every player who I ran into in my career who had played under him loved him. They told me he was a players coach and that — no matter what he had to do — he would get the most out of every guy. I knew a coach like that would be important because of how our team would be made up. It was going to be a full group effort — every single player was going to have contribute — if we were going to make some noise.
I was drafted by Vegas the next day, and my new assistant GM, Kelly McCrimmon, called me.
“David, we’re looking at moving some guys. It’s going to be a hectic couple days as we try to finalize this roster and prepare for the entry draft,” he told me, “but we’re not going to be moving you. You’re going to be a big part of this team.”
After that talk with Kelly, the tone was set for the preseason. And I knew, being one of older guys on the team with some experience, I was going to be looked to as one of the leaders.
Life had thrown me a curveball, but there was a huge chance here — I just needed to take advantage of it. And that attitude is what I remember from the first practice — everyone had it. This is my chance, right here, right now. And in the middle of the summer, more than 30 guys battled for roles they never had.
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Every guy in our room has a chip on his shoulder. And every time we step on the ice it’s a fight to prove our worth.
That was clear from first time we put the Knight over our chests. And it carried over through preseason, when we played well and a strong togetherness was beginning to form. We were feeling really good.
Our last exhibition game was October 1, at 5 p.m. When it finished, Jonathan Marchessault and I were trying to decide where to eat. It was probably nine at this point. We were thinking the Strip, but for some reason, at the last second, Marchy and decided to head back to Summerlin — where we live — to grab some food.
Then, around 10 p.m., we saw the news of an active shooting happening on the Strip.
I texted some of the guys from the team who were on the Strip. They were O.K., but some were stuck in the restaurant because of the lockdown that was put in place when the news broke. I remember, there was this uneasy feeling that was growing at the place in Summerlin. It felt like every 20 seconds the news got worse and worse. People were looking around at one other, eyes darting up from their phones to the TVs around the place, and no sound … nobody knew what to say.
My girlfriend and two kids were out of town, so Marchy let me stay at his place. It was a hard night, and it felt important to be together. We watched the news and texted in the group chat with a lot of our organization to make sure everyone was alright.
And over the next few days we just made sure we were available to help, no matter who needed it. We visited some of the injured in hospitals and met with some first responders … it was a powerful time. Even though we had only been in the city for a few weeks — I knew we were part of this now, and we were going to heal together.
We had our first game five days after the shooting, on the road in Dallas. I think being away from home helped our team a little bit. All the emotion from that horrible night felt so raw, and at the end of the day, we’re playing hockey — it’s just a game. We won our first two games. And James Neal, who had barely played all preseason due to injury, looked like the superstar we know he is. He picked us up when we needed it. So we went into our first home game 2–0.
I won’t forget opening night at T-Mobile Arena for the rest of my life. I wish, above everything else, that nobody would have to be a part of something like that. But to see the way the city responded was so special. The moment of silence … it was breathtaking. Usually during a moment of silence you can hear a few coughs or noises, but that night, there was nothing — just silence. We could feel the pain of the tragedy for those few seconds … everyone could. It was a beautiful ceremony and Deryk Engelland gave a great speech.
I thought we would be a bit slow to start that game with everything that happened before. But I don’t really know how to put into words what went down in that first period.
It was just … it was magic.
Pure, utter, magic. Four goals in 11 minutes.
And that’s where this has all started. I really believe those first 20 minutes in Vegas set the stage for this season.
We ended up winning the game 5–2, and we were the first expansion team to start 3–0. In the locker room, after the game, I realized how much we embodied Vegas — how similar our team is to the city.
We’re a bunch of people, from all over North America and the world, who were castaways from their teams. And nobody really took us seriously. The same way people think Vegas isn’t a real city. They think it’s just a tourist town where people come to have fun. But it is a real city — with real people who care deeply about it.
And we’re a real hockey team.
With some real good players.
There’s a misconception that we were put together in a day, or a few days. But one of the things that was so clear to me when we first got on the ice was the amazing job our management did to build this team. Our lines don’t change too much, and that’s for good reason. They make sense. Our first line of Reilly Smith, William Karlsson and Marchy wasn’t just hacked together. It was crafted. Reilly and Marchy have a really strong connection from their time with the Panthers — they know how to work together. And William is one of those guys — like I mentioned before — who was given a chance to show his potential. He’s an incredibly talented player and the perfect piece to have between those two guys.
And when I started playing with Erik Haula and Neal, there was chemistry right away — because our staff built a team to work together. They knew how we liked to play, even before we got there, and put the pieces in place to give us something to work with. And it’s like that for all of our lines and defensive pairings.
It’s been a complete group effort. From our owner, Bill Foley, who has helped get this city excited, to our fans, to our management, to our coach, to our five goalies who’ve had to play this year — we are in this together.
I think the coolest part, without a doubt, has been the way the city has taken to the team. Our open practices are packed. People are wearing Golden Knights T-shirts on the Strip and recognizing us at restaurants — which still blows my mind. And we really do have some of the best fans in hockey right now, for real.
Even my son, Mason, who’s just two-years old, has been catching hockey fever. A lot of the East Coast games start at 4 p.m., which is early enough that he can watch. So during my off-days, we’ll sit on the couch, eat some popcorn and watch the games. And if we have an early enough game in town, he’ll come watch with my girlfriend, Vanessa.
I remember one night a few weeks ago, they waited for me in the stands after one of our games. He always asks Mom if he can stay because he loves the Zamboni. All he wants to do is watch the Zamboni. So that night, I’m sitting with him in the stands and the Zamboni starts to come towards the ice, and the driver yells out, “Hey, you guys want to ride along? I’ve got an extra seat here!”
I said, “No, no. It’s alright, we don’t want to bother you!”
“Are you sure?” he said.
So I looked at Mason, and he gave me those two-year-old puppy-dog eyes.
“Alright … we’re coming.”
For probably 30 minutes, even after the ice was clean, we rode around. And Mason never stopped smiling.
It was so peaceful and beautiful. It reminded me of that day on the lake this summer. I thought about how this has all played out so differently than I assumed it would. I thought about how lucky I was. And I thought how, if I could go back, I wouldn’t want to change a thing.
The arena was completely empty, all I could hear was the hum of the Zamboni.
And then Mason started to sing.
“Go Knights go! Go Knights go! Go Knights go!”