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April 19, 2019

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March Madness fever breaks out in Golden Knights locker room

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Steve Marcus

A view of the arena as the Vegas Golden Knights take on the Arizona Coyotes during their first season home game at T-Mobile Arena Tuesday, Oct. 10, 2017.

Every hockey team undergoes adversity. Fans see the injuries and trades and slumps that can derail a season. But rarely seen is the internal strife in the locker room.

For instance, what happens if players’ alma maters meet in the NCAA Tournament?

Nine Golden Knights players went to college, and two of their schools are represented in the Big Dance. In the maroon and gold corner of Minnesota are Nate Schmidt and Erik Haula and in Michigan’s maize and blue corner, Max Pacioretty and Jon Merrill.

“Nate’s pretty cheap, so we’ll see how much he’ll want to bet on, but (Haula) I’m sure will dig into his pockets and try to make a bet with me,” Pacioretty said.

Luckily, the two Big Ten rivals are in different regions and won’t meet unless both reach the Final Four. So, crisis averted.

The other Golden Knights who played college hockey — Paul Stastny (Denver), Reilly Smith (Miami), Brandon Pirri (Rensselaer), Ryan Carpenter (Bowling Green) and Alex Tuch (Boston College) — don’t get to watch their schools’ teams in the tournament this year. But that doesn’t stop them from filing out a bracket.

Carpenter said he hadn’t made his picks but might go with No. 1 overall seed Duke to take it all.

“I feel like that’s bandwagon,” he said. “Maybe I’ll try to actually do some research today. Sometimes, even I’ve looked at like President Obama’s or some random ones to see who picks what and go from there.”

Schmidt’s family pool, meanwhile, comes with high stakes.

The family doesn’t wager cash, but they come up with a punishment for the worst bracket, such as the loser having to take a video of themselves singing Christmas carols, Schmidt said.

Schmidt also hadn’t filled out his bracket yet.

“I have my insiders — Dickie V, Jay Bilas, all those guys on speed dial for the afternoon,” he said jokingly. “I don’t have my picks in, but I do have a lot of budding picks in my head that are blossoming in my mind.”

One person not focused on March Madness: Coach Gerard Gallant. “No interest,” he said.

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