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December 11, 2018

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More than muscle: Ryan Reaves helps the Knights as much with his stick as with his fists

Golden Knights Beat Capitals in Game 1

Steve Marcus

Vegas Golden Knights right wing Ryan Reaves (75) celebrates with left wing Tomas Nosek (92) after Nosek scored in the third period during Game 1 of the NHL Stanley Cup Finals at T-Mobile Arena Monday, May 28, 2018.

Ryan Reaves heard a cracking sound and knew he broke his stick at a recent Golden Knights practice at City National Arena. The stick didn’t shatter into pieces, but it was no longer useful on the ice. It wasn’t past the point of being able to make a young fan’s day, however.

Raise a glass with Reaves

Fans will soon have a new way to support Reaves—through beer. Reaves got into brewing during his seven-year stint with the St. Louis Blues, and recently launched a company called 7Five Brewing, a nod to his jersey number. His first beer, Grim Reaver Red IPA, was released in St. Louis, but Reaves plans to bring a new product to Las Vegas. He’s described an announcement as imminent, so be on the lookout for news on how to try Reaves’ brew sometime this season.

In the middle of practice, Reaves skated to the Zamboni entrance, called to a child in a Golden Knights jersey and handed over the stick. “I figured some kid would like it more than me,” he said afterwards.

Consider it just another gesture that has helped the fourth-line winger become one of the most popular players on the VGK roster—and a kindhearted moment for a player primarily known as a tough guy.

The 31-year-old Reaves has fostered a reputation as a fighter throughout his nine-year NHL career. He knows it, and he doesn’t back down from it. The 6-foot-1, 225-pounder has fought 70 times in his career, according to hockeyfights.com, including twice this year in a season in which Knights have only tussled three times total. Reaves exchanged punches with Minnesota’s Marcus Foligno on October 6 and Ottawa’s Mark Borowiecki on November 8, winning both encounters, according to hockeyfights’ fan voting.

Fighting doesn’t go as far as it once did in the NHL, though. Roughing up opponents used to be enough to secure a roster spot and endear a player to a fan base, but the sport has evolved. There have only been 63 fights in the NHL this year, which projects out to 219 for the season. That would be the fewest since the website began tracking during the 2000-01 season. For comparison’s sake, the 2001-02 season featured 803 fights.

As fights have gone down, scoring production has gone up, and Reaves is trying to change with the times. He had a career-high seven goals and 13 points with the St. Louis Blues two years ago, and already has four goals and seven points through 25 games this season. “I’m not going to get as many fights as I used to back in the day,” Reaves says. “I’ll keep the reputation, that’s fine. As long as it’s scaring people and giving me and my linemates some room out there, that’s fine. I try to score some goals, too.”

He’s had some big ones in Vegas. Reaves famously scored the series-clinching goal in Game 5 of last year’s Western Conference Final against the Winnipeg Jets, and then scored the game-tying goal in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Finals against the Washington Capitals. They were the second and third playoff goals of his career.

And Reaves remains a physical presence for the Knights. He ranks second in the NHL in hits this season with 100, behind only linemate William Carrier (122) and 19 ahead of the next-closest player.

“You see him going in on the forecheck, and everyone is waiting for that big hit or, I guess this year, a big goal or something,” defenseman Jon Merrill says. “He’s turned into quite a goal-scorer for us. It’s awesome to hear the fans cheer for him. He’s worked his tail off his whole career, and to see him having some success is awesome.”

Many assumed Reaves was a short-term rental when the Golden Knights acquired him from Pittsburgh at last year’s trade deadline, but they were proven wrong in the offseason. The franchise saw enough out of Reaves in 31 combined regular-season and playoff games to sign him to a two-year, $5.55 million contract.

He has not only produced in games but has also emerged as a leader. The rest of the team looks up to Reaves, who’s often the one leading stretches during practice. “I think we have a lot of leaders, but he’s definitely a key guy, and he definitely brings that experience to our team,” defenseman Shea Theodore says. “The persona that he has is this big tough guy, but I think deep down inside, he’s got a softer side to him.”

Reaves always seems affable. When he’s not handing over a stick at practice, he’s giving away pucks to children and talking to fans along the glass during warmups. The Golden Knights’ faithful rewards him by chanting his name when he takes the puck up the ice at T-Mobile Arena. He’s a fan favorite, even if he’s not as much of a fighter anymore.

“If the fans think I can’t hear them chanting, I definitely can, and it fires me up,” Reaves says. “To have 18,000 people chant your name is something growing up that I never would have thought would happen. Now that it’s happening, it’s definitely a cool feeling.”

This story originally appeared in the Las Vegas Weekly.