Game 1 hero Whitecloud never thought he’d become an NHL player

LAS VEGAS — When Zach Cloudwhite he was growing up and playing hockey with his friends, he dreamed of having a great time in the Stanley Cup final.

When asked which player he pretended to be, he said, “Zach Whitecloud.”

And that’s exactly what he thought it was: a dream, pretend, something that would never happen.

“I was never supposed to be here playing professional hockey, nothing like that,” the Vegas Golden Knights defenseman said during media day for the Stanley Cup Final on Friday. “I was never that player, I was never that kid. I dreamed of it, but it was never a realistic goal in my mind.”

But there he was Saturday scoring the game-winner for the Golden Knights 5-2 against the Florida Panthers in Game 1 of the Stanly Cup Final. His shot from near the blue line tore through traffic and past the Florida goalie. Sergei Bobrovsky under his glove at 6:59 of the third period to break a 2-2 tie. teammate mark stone scored at 13:41 to make it 4-2 and reilly smith he capped the win with an empty goal at 18:15 of the third.

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And while Vegas also got goals from the original Golden Knights Jonathan Marchessault and shea theodoreWhitecloud’s goal was the biggest of the night.

“Well, the 3-2 goal made it tough,” Florida coach Paul Maurice said when asked when his team let the game slip. “When we only have two and they have three.”

Not only was it somewhat surprising to see the game-winning goal come from a third-team defenseman who had scored a goal in his previous 17 games this postseason, Whitecloud said it was a moment he never thought would happen growing up in Sioux Valley Dakota. . Nation. In fact, he is the first NHL player from that community.

“We have a lot of good hockey players from where I grew up in Brandon, Manitoba, and my community is 20 minutes west of there, Sioux Valley. We’ve never had hockey players in our community play at higher levels.” Whitecloud said Friday. “My dad played a little junior hockey and stuff, but nothing higher than that.

“And, you know, he’s always been my role model in terms of why I wanted to play hockey. Why I have this passion for the game that I have. You know, (indigenous NHL player) Jordin Tootoo, he was one of the role models for sure. People who look like me, people who got to those levels.”

Video: FLA@VGK, Gm1: Whitecloud finish Barbashev’s feed

But the 26-year-old didn’t think he’d ever make it to the NHL. In fact, he said, he never thought of becoming a professional hockey player, but simply played for love.

“I was never the player that was first picked by teams or always praised for being a good player. I was fine with that. That’s a big part of why I’m where I am today because I really played the game because I love it,” Whitecloud said. “I wasn’t playing to try to get to the NHL to make a living and be this person. I was just there, literally, playing with my friends on the court, having fun. If I made the Triple-A team or the travel team that would be great if it did, whatever. That was my mindset and then through junior, through college, and all kinds of things and it became more realistic, and it’s been a really cool ride.”

After playing three seasons with the Virden Oil Capitals of the Manitoba Junior Hockey League, Whitecloud moved to Bemidji State University in Minnesota. In two NCAA seasons, Whitecloud had 36 points (seven goals, 29 assists) in 77 games.

Undrafted, he signed a three-year entry-level contract with the Golden Knights on March 8, 2018. He made his NHL debut a month later on April 5, and was nonsense in his only game that season. He played the 2018-19 season with Chicago of the American Hockey League, scoring 15 points (three goals, 12 assists) in 22 games in the Calder Cup Playoffs, as the Wolves lost in the final to the Charlotte Checkers. The 15 points led all defensemen and were the most by an AHL rookie since Alex Goligoski he had 28 points with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton in 2008.

Video: Zach Cloudwhite on Las Vegas’ Game 1 victory over Florida

Whitecloud played 35 games for Chicago the following season, and was recalled by Las Vegas on February 1. He has been a defenseman in the NHL ever since.

He has 44 points (15 goals, 29 assists) in 186 regular-season games with Las Vegas and 13 points (five goals, eight assists) in 57 post-game seasons. And thanks to his goal in Game 1, he’s three wins away from being a Stanley Cup champion.

Whitecloud hopes his story and the success he found in the NHL can be an inspiration to other indigenous kids who may feel they don’t have a chance to make it to the NHL. In fact, he hopes the kids who see him and the Florida linebacker brandon montourwho is also indigenous, you will be inspired to pursue whatever your dream may be.

“I think it’s a great experience for a lot of our young people in our communities to see that. Role models, whatever it is, for people in those communities to get to this level and live their dream,” Whitecloud said, “and that it comes from hard work, support, people who love and care about you and do the best you can.

“It’s about sending a message to a lot of those kids, right? That this is possible. Dreaming and chasing your dreams is possible, and I think that’s the most important part for me: to be able to get to this point but also to be a role model as far as seeing that this is possible with hard work, dedication. And that doesn’t just come from hockey. If you want to be a lawyer, if you want to be an entrepreneur, whatever you want to do, whatever your passion is, go and get it”.