Courtesy of Carter Brooks, Game on Hockey Magazine
Those familiar with the city of Winnipeg will certainly know the proud affinity that Winnipeggers carry when it comes to local celebrities. Whether it’s the great Randy Bachman, Burton Cummings or Chantal Kreviazuk, those from Manitoba’s capital tend to put an existential emphasis on the fact that they too, either came from the same city, broke bread in the same joint, or used to attend school with one of the better-known public figures from a city of roughly 850K.
This couldn’t be more true within the world of sports. And we’re talking every sport imaginable. Maybe you delivered papers to Chris Jericho (Irvine)’s father as a child. Or wasn’t it Cindy Klassen’s sister Lisa whom you attended junior high with? Oh that’s right, it wasn’t Cindy Klassen, but fellow Olympic gold medalist Jennifer Jones.
The sporting circles run deep in Winnipeg, and right now, the focus has been shifted rather heavily to the sporting scene during this current global pandemic. With the cancellation of the 2020 Canadian Football League season, the Toronto Blue Jays playing their 2020 Major League Baseball campaign in Buffalo, and the Toronto Raptors looking for their second-straight ‘Larry O-B’, albeit down in Orlando, FLA., hockey has been one of the most easily accessible, and most importantly best-run operations during the return to sports.
For those not keeping tabs at home, 24 NHL teams were selected to participate in a playoff qualifier, with 16 teams moving on and eight going home. Unfortunately for Winnipeggers and Canadians as a whole, the Winnipeg Jets, Toronto Maple Leafs and Edmonton Oilers each fell in their respective play-in round, best-of-five matchup, before the Montreal Canadians and Calgary Flames bowed out in the first round of action, leaving just the Vancouver Canucks as the lone Canadian club remaining in a tight battle for the Stanley Cup.
Fans have been forced to make a decision as to their vested interest in the remainder of the postseason. With games being played solely in Canada (Rogers Place in Edmonton and Scotiabank Arena in Toronto) the news of just one Canadian team remaining in the mix has been devastating to Canadian television markets and media outlets, as the various geographical broadcasters look to find ways to turn the attention to local products.
With as many as 20 NHL players from Manitoba earning the right to represent their teams in the 24-team showdown, one by one teams have fallen out of the playoff race, in turn, taking those Manitobans from the picture. If those in Winnipeg and beyond really want to see the Stanley Cup at some point during the ‘offseason’ – which will be from early October to late-November – they best find a team to cheer for with more than one representative from the province.
Although the New York Islanders’ Ryan Pulock (Grandview), Philadelphia’s Travis Sanheim (Elkhorn) and Colorado’s Matt Calvert (Brandon) may still be in the running, the greatest possibility for Manitobans to see the Stanley Cup lies within the Vegas Golden Knights. Led by longtime head coach and GM of the Brandon Wheat Kings Kelly McCrimmon, the team that is soon to be the second-newest expansion club within the NHL has a roster filled to the brim with blossoming talent.
Forward Mark Stone (Winnipeg) leads the way offensively, with young defensive stud Zach Whitecloud right behind (Dakota Sioux Nation). Ryan Reaves (Winnipeg) continues to provide the on/off-ice tactics required of a 21st century pugilist, while youngsters Cody Glass (Winnipeg) and Keegan Kolesar (Winnipeg) are expected to soon see their time on the big-league roster.
Reaves’ largest contributions come in the form of colossal open-ice hits, constant aggravation of opponents and assault by way of words. Whitecloud has proven to be a reliable depth option on a very talented blueline, while finding his way offensively – as demonstrated by his first career playoff goal against St. Louis.
But Stone is the driving force in Vegas. Now just two goals away from the Golden Knights all-time franchise lead, the 28-year-old former Kirkfield-Westwood regular is producing at a clip even higher than expected following such a phenomenal junior career with the Western Hockey League’s Brandon Wheat Kings. Only Jonathan Marchessault (15) and Alex Tuch (12) have more postseason goals with Vegas than Stone (11), who has played in exactly 20 less playoff games with the franchise.
Stone’s uncanny ability to redirect pucks, create netfront havoc, and score those garbage goals, while also putting on a display with his puck control and skill does not go unnoticed. Back in late-February of 2019, Ottawa sent its then seven-year pro to the Golden Knights in a trade-and-sign deal. Vegas dealt its second round draft pick in the 2020 NHL Entry Draft, defensive prospect Erik Brannstrom and forward Oscar Lindberg to Ottawa, while Tobias Lindberg went alongside Stone to Sin City.
McCrimmon quickly got to work on locking Stone down for the long-term, as shortly after news of the trade broke, Stone signed an eight-year extension with Vegas, carrying an annual average value of $9.5 million. The new deal makes Stone Vegas’ highest-paid player, who leapfrogs Max Pacioretty, Paul Stastny, William Karlsson, Jonathan Marchesssault, Shea Theodore and Marc-Andre Fleury in that regard.
Now over a year later, the former Winnipeg Thrasher has put up 26 goals, 74 points and 32 penalty minutes in 83 regular season games with the franchise, while adding another 11 goals, 22 points and four penalty minutes in 16 postseason contests. Although playing six fewer games than the Knights’ leading point-scorer Max Pacioretty this past season, Stone managed to stay just three points back of the team lead, while dealing with a lower-body injury pre-COVID-19 pause.
For those looking for a new allegiance for the remainder of the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs, the Vegas Golden Knights very well might be that team. Laced with talent spewing from Winnipeg, the boys from Sin City, Nevada… errr, Manitoba have the support of Game On Magazine. Do they have yours?