Courtesy Golden Knights
Saturday, Dec. 16, 2017 | 2 a.m.
Golden Knights vice president Murray Craven and director of hockey operations Misha Donskov stand at the front of the room breaking down hockey film on a projector screen.
Craven points at the screen with a hockey stick, while Donskov explains what the Golden Knights’ forwards are trying to accomplish as they enter the opponents’ blue line.
Sitting in the chairs watching aren’t Golden Knights players, but instead, fans eager to learn the intricacies of the game.
The program is called VGK University, and it allows hockey fans to experience five film sessions with Craven and Donskov, along with a pre-game skate on the ice at T-Mobile Arena.
“I think it’s great,” said Eric Sparling, who has lived in Las Vegas since 2009. “I’ve watched the sport as a fan for many years, since (Mario) Lemieux’s days in Pittsburgh, but I’ve never played the sport. I wanted to learn more in depth offensive and defensive strategy and some things that you wouldn’t necessarily know from watching on TV.”
Sparling, 42, purchased the VGK University package for $495, which came with a ticket to five games (Nov. 19 versus the Kings, Dec. 3 versus the Coyotes, Dec. 17 versus the Panthers, Feb. 11 versus the Flyers and March 18 versus the Flames), with an hour-long class and a skating session prior to each game.
“When I first heard about it, it sounded like it was for beginners, and I’m not exactly a beginner,” said Sparling, who grew up in Connecticut watching the Pittsburgh Penguins. “I thought ‘you know what I will probably learn something.’ It’s been pretty in depth and I love the video clips. They are very instructive and help you recognize what’s going on.”
In the first session, Craven and Donskov set the groundwork with an introduction to hockey, and on the second session they went into an in depth analysis of how NHL teams create offense. They broke down everything from how teams dump the puck into the offensive zone to start the forecheck, to each type of shot a player can take, all the while breaking down examples of each with video footage of Golden Knights games.
“Misha does a fantastic job with the video,” Craven said. “One thing the video does when we’re able to talk about the different concepts like forechecking, backchecking, icing or offsides, is people can visually see it. We can stand up here and talk until we’re blue in the face and people would either fall asleep or not get it.”
Fans are given a notepad with hockey rink diagrams so they can take notes along the way. Sunday’s class will break down defensive strategy and the final two will cover special teams and a day in the life of an NHL coach.
“We want people to be able to leave here and have a much better appreciation for the game and be able to appreciate what’s happening out there on the ice,” Craven said.
With more than 1,000 NHL games in his career, Craven brings playing experience to the lesson. Craven scored 266 goals and tallied 493 assists during his 20-year career with eight different organizations.
Donskov has worked with the Columbus Blue Jackets and Atlanta Thrashers as well as the Canadian National hockey club.
The two try to instill as much hockey knowledge as they can, while keeping the concepts simple enough for even the most novice hockey fans to understand. Fans are encouraged to interact with questions and comments throughout the lessons.
“A lot of markets are established hockey markets so they may not take the time or the energy to do this,” Craven said.
The 50 spots for VGK University sold out quickly, but the team said it plans to hold another enrollment if they continue to get good results during the current one.
“One of the reasons I’ve always enjoyed watching sports is not only seeing what’s happening, but trying to anticipate that moment that you get excited for,” Sparling said. “Now I can enjoy it even more because of instead of a checkers mentality I can watch hockey like chess, trying to be three steps ahead.”