The Silver Knights’ second season didn’t begin as planned.
Assistant coach Jamie Heward stood in the middle of the home bench at Orleans Arena for games Friday and Sunday against the Colorado Eagles rather than coach Manny Viveiros. The team iced several new players on the blue line and didn’t have last year’s second-leading scorer, right wing Jack Dugan, on Sunday.
But the results haven’t been different. The Silver Knights, after winning the American Hockey League’s Pacific Division in their inaugural season, swept the Eagles by winning 5-4 in a shootout Friday and 6-3 Sunday.
Their mettle was tested early, and through two games they’ve responded.
“Adding two or three, four new players, you’re just kind of plugging them in,” Heward said. “Our veteran guys did a really good job of playing hard this weekend. Obviously, COVID aside, there’s always stuff that’s going to happen on a day-to-day basis, so our guys, mentally, did a really good job.”
The lineups for the first two games were far different from the ones the Silver Knights envisioned breaking camp with.
Young defensemen Kaedan Korczak, Peter DiLiberatore and Zack Hayes didn’t play in either game. Veteran defenseman Derrick Pouliot and center Gage Quinney didn’t, either. Dugan played Friday but sat Sunday with a lower-body injury.
Then there was the absence off the ice. The Silver Knights announced less than six hours before their opener that Viveiros would be “taking a non-COVID medical leave of absence from the team.”
Heward stepped into the lead role, with assistant coach Joel Ward, goaltending coach Fred Brathwaite and video coach Andrew Doty doing their part.
“Obviously, tough without Manny,” goaltender Logan Thompson said. “He’s in our prayers. Wish him the best, and we’re playing every game for him.”
Despite the early adversity, the Silver Knights came out firing.
Center Peyton Krebs excelled after starting the season with the Golden Knights. He dished out five assists and scored a shootout winner over the weekend. Defenseman Daniil Miromanov had two goals and two assists. Left wing Pavel Dorofeyev, who made his NHL debut Tuesday, scored three goals, including two Sunday.
The Silver Knights also received their standard excellent play from Thompson, the reigning AHL goalie of the year. He stopped 89 of 96 shots in the two games and saved three of four shootout attempts Friday.
Two of the goals he gave up Sunday came with the Silver Knights playing with two fewer skaters than the Eagles.
“We’ve got a new team,” said center Ben Jones, who scored an empty-net, short-handed goal Sunday. “A lot of injuries. A lot of guys that are just kind of getting familiar with the systems and just getting back in the swing of things. We’re pretty lucky that we have a guy like LT to be our backbone there.”
The Silver Knights hope to make Thompson’s job easier soon. Heward said the defense should improve once players are healthy and get more practice time.
“Let’s just get healthy and see where it goes after that,” he said.