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Zach Whitecloud happy to be back in NHL with Golden Knights

Updated February 3, 2020 - 3:36 pm

TAMPA, Fla. — To say that Zach Whitecloud is happy to be back with the Golden Knights is underselling it. Thrilled and determined to make the most of the opportunity would be more accurate.

The 23-year-old defenseman made his NHL debut April 5, 2018, 28 days after signing with the Knights as a college free agent. He then waited nearly 22 months, 667 days to be exact, for his next shot.

He played his second NHL game Saturday against the Predators and is hoping he’ll play his third Tuesday against the Tampa Bay Lightning.

“You kind of look back on those things and you’re thankful for it and thankful for the opportunity,” Whitecloud said of his reintroduction to the NHL and the long road he traveled to get there. “But you also want to take advantage of the opportunity you’re given and make the most of it. And just come here with a positive attitude, upbeat spirit and just have fun and be part of the team.”

The right-shot defenseman had a good training camp this fall but sustained an upper-body injury in the Knights’ third-to-last preseason game. That ended his chances of making the team.

So Whitecloud waited in the American Hockey League, where he had seven points (two goals, five assists) in 35 games for the Chicago Wolves.

Then, after a game Friday against the Milwaukee Admirals, he learned he was being called back up. The Wolves were set to play Saturday as well, so Whitecloud was already getting ready to play the next day. He flew to Nashville the next morning and played 13:34 in the Knights’ 3-0 win.

“I did my normal stuff after the game. Cool down and get ready for the next night,” Whitecloud said. “So it kind of worked out.”

He hopes his latest NHL chance works out as well. The Knights could certainly use a player like Whitecloud, one who can provide a little offense and isn’t afraid to be physical in front of his own net. It doesn’t hurt that he’s a right shot — one of only two on the blue line along with Deryk Engelland.

“(I want to show) just, first of all, that I can be a good teammate and a good person in the organization,” Whitecloud said. “Then obviously do my best on the ice to contribute in any way possible. Just do my part and pull my weight.”

Goalie fight

“The Battle of Alberta” rivalry between the Calgary Flames and Edmonton Oilers went to a new level Saturday when goaltenders Cam Talbot and Mike Smith fought in the second period.

Knights goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury loved it.

“I get excited,” Fleury said. “I think everybody gets excited, you know, to see a goalie fight. There’s not too many of those anymore, right? Kudos to the guys to stand up like that and do it.”

Right wing Ryan Reaves was a fan as well.

“It’s nice, old-school hockey,” Reaves said. “I loved it. A heated game. Obviously, that rivalry is back in full force, which, you know, is good for the sport, good to see. I like seeing a nice goalie fight once in a while.”

OT practice

The Knights ended Monday’s practice with a 3-on-3 scrimmage, something they never did under previous coach Gerard Gallant.

The team is 3-6 in games decided in 3-on-3 overtime. The Knights are also 3-1 in shootouts.

“Our record isn’t good in overtime, 3-on-3,” coach Peter DeBoer said. “There are some things I think you can get better at in those situations, some areas of concentration, (some) strategy to it. So we talked about some of those things.”

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

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