Tuesday, Jan. 26, 2021 | 10:35 p.m.
The Golden Knights weren’t naïve to the possibility that COVID-19 could come for them. And on Tuesday, for the first time this season, it did.
A Golden Knights coach tested positive for the virus, general manager Kelly McCrimmon confirmed after Tuesday’s 5-4 shootout loss to the St. Louis Blues, setting into motion a chain of events that led to one of the oddest coaching scenarios Vegas has ever seen.
The coach, who was not named, was in close contact with the rest of the staff, meaning they all had to isolate and quarantine, making them unavailable for the game. McCrimmon stepped behind the bench as head coach and summoned the Henderson Silver Knights coaching staff to serve as assistants.
“Based on how the day unfolded, we took the steps that we did to best prepare our team to play tonight,” McCrimmon said. “I give the players a lot of credit. I thought they played extremely hard and I thought they played a really good game, quite frankly.”
The Golden Knights were made aware of the positive test at 3 p.m., three hours before puck drop against the Blues. The Silver Knights coaches — head coach Manny Viveiros, assistants Joel Ward, Jamie Heward and video coach Andrew Doty — had just finished practice at 2 p.m. and rushed to prepare for an NHL game.
Vegas will close its practice facility on Wednesday, canceling a scheduled practice. There is no timetable for when the Golden Knights coaches may be able to return, but as of now there are no concerns about playing Thursday’s game against St. Louis.
McCrimmon said once the positive test was revealed and a coaching staff was assembled, there was no consideration given to postponing Tuesday’s game. No players tested positive, none were deemed close contacts and none missed the game.
“We take this very seriously and almost take pride in the fact that we’re trying to do whatever we can to limit the exposure,” forward Max Pacioretty said. “It was a bit of a shock obviously to hear that because of how hard we’re working to do so, but it’s something that you cannot control. We hope that we’ve done a good enough job to limit that, but I guess we’ll see what happens in the next couple days.”
Players didn’t find out about the coaching change until they arrived at the arena for the game. In a way, they credited their coaching for how they were prepared to go on with a new coach.
The goal was to make the coach as much of a non-issue as possible, and it seemed for the most part they were successful. Vegas took two too-many-men penalties that might be chalked up to miscommunication, but overall it was not obvious that Pete DeBoer and his staff were absent.
“I don’t know how many times this has happened in the history of hockey,” Pacioretty said. “Just a different voice back there, but same structure and I thought we played a strong game.”
McCrimmon said his familiarity with the players was the driving force behind him getting behind the bench. He’s no stranger to it either. He was a longtime coach of the Western Hockey League’s Brandon Wheat Kings before joining the Vegas front office in 2016, so he has plenty of experience.
Vegas forward Mark Stone played junior hockey for the Wheat Kings, so he had the unique perspective of McCrimmon’s voice not being foreign to him in a coaching capacity.
“He’s coached plenty of hockey games in his life and he had a lot of help with the Henderson staff up here,” Stone said. “He cares about winning. I’m sure that’s all he had in his mind behind the bench tonight.”
McCrimmon was thankful the Silver Knights coaches were available, and grateful that he didn’t have to worry about what would have happened if they weren’t. Those coaches will continue to test and be part of the NHL’s virus protocols for as long as they are needed. And while McCrimmon couldn’t say for sure, it’s possible they’re called upon for Thursday’s game.
The Golden Knights purchased an AHL team last year, and this season will be the Silver Knights’ first in the valley. There’s plenty of benefits to having an AHL team in the same area as the parent club, though, admittedly, this is not what Vegas expected.
“That’s not why we put our American Hockey League team in Henderson, Nevada, but certainly it was a godsend tonight.,” McCrimmon said. “A real fortunate stroke of luck that we’ve got our team right here.”