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Golden Knights welcome fans back to City National Arena for camp

Defenseman Dylan Coghlan heard cheers before he even became the first Golden Knights’ player to take the ice for training camp.

For the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic began, the Knights opened the doors to the rinks at City National Arena so fans could watch them practice. It was easy to spot the difference.

There were “Go Knights Go” chants between drills. Cheers for the two goals in the team’s first scrimmage. Gasps when defenseman Alec Martinez blocked a shot.

The Knights, after a year of practicing in relative silence, got one step closer to normalcy Thursday. They weren’t complaining, even if it did take some adjusting to.

“I’m not used to having the fans at practice, so I’ve got to get used to it,” goaltender Robin Lehner said. “They just keep showing what this city’s about. It’s pretty unbelievable.”

The fans provided an extra boost of energy for the Knights as they skated together for the first time this season. The team also provided entertainment by playing music and having its mascot, Chance, roam around the stands.

“I thought it was awesome to be back in person after all this time off,” said Knights fan Ron Hindmarch, who attended practice with his grandson. “We’re excited to be back on the ice with these guys.”

The Knights showed their appreciation by raising their sticks after their scrimmage and saluting the fans before heading to the locker room. Last season, they opened with no fans at practices or games.

“Obviously, it was pretty cool seeing that,” center Nolan Patrick said. “I’ve never seen that many fans at a practice. It obviously shows how good they are.”

Initial groupings

The initial line combinations — which could change several times throughout camp and preseason games — didn’t feature many surprises.

The team’s top six forwards and three defense pairs were unchanged from its final game against Montreal in the playoffs. Chandler Stephenson centered left wing Max Pacioretty and right wing Mark Stone, and center William Karlsson was between left wing Jonathan Marchessault and right wing Reilly Smith.

On defense, Martinez and Alex Pietrangelo were together, Brayden McNabb skated with Shea Theodore, and Nic Hague played with Zach Whitecloud.

New was the bottom six, which included Patrick skating between left wing Mattias Janmark and right wing Evgenii Dadonov. Center Nicoals Roy was between left wing William Carrier and right wing Keegan Kolesar, who scored in the first scrimmage.

Top prospect Peyton Krebs started at left wing with center Brett Howden and right wing Lucas Elvenes.

“I love the depth of our forward group this year,” coach Pete DeBoer said. “I don’t know how they’re going to roll out, but we’ve got competition for jobs, for spots in the lineup, and competition is always great from a coaching perspective.”

Rinkside reporter

Ashali Vise is joining the Knights as their new rinkside reporter, the team announced Thursday.

Vise was with the St. Louis Blues for five seasons as a host, reporter and video producer. She replaces Las Vegas native Stormy Buonantony, who left the Knights after two seasons to join the sports betting broadcast network VSiN full time.

Contact Ben Gotz at bgotz@reviewjournal.com. Follow @BenSGotz on Twitter.

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