Thursday, June 28, 2018 | 2 a.m.
When Gage Quinney grew up playing hockey in Las Vegas, there were only two rinks in town. Neither one is still standing.
There weren’t many hockey players in the valley at the time either, so Quinney’s parents would drive him to California on weekends in search of competition.
Now, the 22-year-old has the opportunity of a lifetime with a hometown team he never expected. Quinney signed a two-year, entry-level contract with the Golden Knights on June 1 and is participating in the team’s development camp this week, trying to impress the staff enough to earn a shot at a roster spot in the fall.
“I think that’s a dream come true,” Quinney said. “To play for your hometown team would be an unreal feeling and that’s what I’m really pushing for. Every moment counts and everybody is always watching you. How you present yourself on and off the ice is big.”
Quinney’s father, Ken Quinney, played for the Las Vegas Thunder of the International Hockey League from 1993-1995. The Thunder accounted for about the extent of the local hockey community at the time.
Ken starred for the Thunder, recording 189 goals and 224 assists in five years including a team-leading 108-point season in 1993-1994.
Gage was born the next year and grew up near Spring Valley High, where he attended before transferring to West Career and Technical Academy. He played hockey at the ice rink inside Santa Fe Station until the facility closed in 2004.
“It was different,” Gage said. “Before there weren’t too many people but because of the Golden Knights now, and the year they had, it looks like everybody wants to try hockey, and it’s definitely grown.”
Las Vegas supported the Thunder during their short tenure at the Thomas & Mack Center, but the youth hockey scene was miniscule.
“Every year you had the same team that you had the year before, so you always knew who was on your team,” Gage said. “It was cool but it was hard for people that moved out here because they were the odd man out with all of us that played together for so many years.”
Gage played for the Las Vegas Storm Under 16 and Under 18 leagues, scoring 35 goals in two seasons with the youth travel team. He simultaneously competed with the Phoenix Junior Coyotes, drawing the attention of Bruno Kempese, who was the general manager of the Prince Albert Raiders major junior hockey team in Canada.
“At that time I didn’t know much about (the Canadian junior hockey league),” Gage said. “Every American hockey player has the dream to play college hockey, but once I learned about what it was it changed my mind.”
Gage became a Raider where he registered 31 points in two seasons in the Western Hockey League, before being traded to the Kelowna Rockets and eventually the Kamloops Blazers in 2015.
He began his professional hockey career in 2016 with the Wheeling Nailers of the ECHL (a minor-league affiliate of the Pittsburgh Penguins). The 21-year-old notched 18 goals and 26 assists with the Nailers, prompting the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins of the American Hockey League to sign him to a contract for the 2017-18 season.
Gage continued to improve there, registering 14 goals and 19 assists. Meanwhile, he watched his hometown get awarded an expansion team and transform into an NHL city from afar.
“I was excited for the city to finally get a sports team,” he said. “Then the team is really good right away and everyone had the chance to experience the Stanley Cup Final was awesome. Vegas is a hockey town, which is pretty cool to say when you’re in the middle of the desert.”
He was a free agent after his first year in the AHL, free to sign wherever he pleased. The Golden Knights made a two-year offer and he jumped at the chance to return home and reunite with Kempese, who is now an amateur scout for Vegas.
“I was looking at everything and I didn’t really know what to think when Vegas offered,” Gage said. “I was excited but it was still a pretty hard decision. It is that much sweeter to be home.”
He has spent his summers at home, even skating at City National Arena last year during the offseason. He competed at the Penguins’ development camp the last two years, but his time with the Golden Knights has felt different.
“Especially skating at a rink that you’re used to skating at,” Gage said. “You have nerves at first, but then they go away once you start going through the drills. It helps going to other development camps, so I don’t think you have that many nerves going in, but with it being the hometown team that really kicked in for a bit then it went away.”
For a change, Gage is one of the more experienced players.
“When you come back from your second year, you see these guys are a little bit more relaxed and comfortable,” Golden Knights assistant coach Ryan Craig said. “You can see that comfort level is more noticeable for sure.”
Gage is competing on the ice during the five-day camp with 42 other players, all of whom have been tasked by the coaching staff with improving their game.
“Right off the bat, you can tell he has incredible hockey sense,” said Ross McMullan, who played with Quinney in Wheeling and trains with him during the summer in Las Vegas. “He’s a playmaker and possesses the puck longer than some are able to. He’s a dangerous player because he can expose you with his creativity.”
His two-year deal with the Golden Knights is a two-way contract, meaning they can send him back and forth to their AHL affiliate Chicago Wolves. But Gage has both a monetary and personal incentive to try to squeak his way onto the NHL roster.
His AHL salary is $70,000 per season, while his NHL salary is $715,000.
“It’s great,” McMullan said. “The hockey community here was buzzing in the days after he signed with the Golden Knights and everyone was talking about how cool it was.”
Jason Zucker of the Minnesota Wild is currently the only NHL player born in Las Vegas. Quinney has a chance to be the second.
It won’t be easy as the Golden Knights have some of the best forward depth in the NHL — shown by veteran players like Tomas Tatar and Ryan Reaves being left out of the lineup during the playoffs. But Gage hopes to keep improving and someday make the roster.
“It would be a dream come true to play in the NHL, but to play for your hometown team would be even better,” he said. “It makes it that much sweeter.”