When Gerard Gallant arrived in Columbus, Ohio, in 2000 to become an assistant coach with the expansion Blue Jackets, there was no traveling hockey team available for his son Jason.
The town’s hockey community grew with the team, though, and 17 years later, Gallant will hope to pull off a similar feat in Las Vegas. The Golden Knights’ first coach will be tasked with growing a hockey team and community in his new city, and he’ll draw on his previous experience to take on the challenge.
“You’re building it from the grass roots,” Gallant said. “You’re going to see a lot of young kids in the area now playing hockey because of the Vegas Golden Knights.”
Gallant stayed with the Blue Jackets from 2000 to 2006, first as an assistant and then as head coach starting in January 2004, and the team took awhile to take off. The Blue Jackets went 144-225-33-23 during his time in Columbus, never making the playoffs before he was fired early in the 2006-07 season.
“You look back at those times in Columbus, and the fans were excited, the building was exciting every night,” Gallant said. “We didn’t have a whole lot of success early on there, but I know one thing: When we came to the rink, it was fun, we worked hard, we competed.”
Gallant wants to bring that same attitude to the Golden Knights, and thanks to new expansion draft rules, he said his new roster should be ahead of the one the Blue Jackets started with. He’ll still be tasked with developing plenty of young players as the team grows, something Scott Luce, the Golden Knights’ director of amateur scouting said he excels at.
“Gerard was a great guy to supply young talent to,” said Luce, who worked in the Panthers’ front office when Gallant was their head coach. “He’s an underrated coach that’s had a lot of momentum behind him.”
Golden Knights general manager George McPhee said Gallant’s experience with an expansion team wasn’t a big factor in his hiring; he was just looking for an experienced coach. But owner Bill Foley wanted someone who could help the team get out into the community as it tries to build a youth hockey community and grow a long-term fan base.
“Gerard is a perfect guy for that,” Foley said. “He’s going to make sure to work with his players so we have that outreach. He has the right type of personality for our team.”
While Gallant couldn’t find a team for his son in 2000, a player from Ohio has been selected in each of the past four NHL drafts. Now the Golden Knights think he’s the right man to lead this round of expansion into a fledgling hockey area.
“It takes off,” Gallant said. “It’s hard to believe it happens that quick, but you’re going to see it.”
Ben Gotz can be reached at bgotz@ reviewjournal.com. Follow @BenSGotz on Twitter.