Pierre Edouard-Bellemare, Ryan Reaves and Malcolm Subban are cashing in on the chips of fate that took them to Las Vegas.
The three black players are members of the Vegas Golden Knights, the first-year National Hockey League team that’s made an improbable run to the Stanley Cup Final.
Forwards Reaves and Bellemare played pivotal roles Sunday in the Golden Knights’ series-clinching 2-1 win over the Winnipeg Jets that put them to the Stanley Cup Final.
Reaves, a Winnipeg native and son of a former Canadian Football League star, scored the game-winning goal, a second-period tip in shot. The man who proclaimed himself the strongest player in the NHL showed soft hands on the goal.
The Golden Knights dispatched the Jets in five games and now await the winner of the Washington Capitals-Tampa Bay Lightning Eastern Conference Final.
Bellemare, a native of Le Blanc-Mesnil, France, didn’t register a point Sunday. But he made his presence felt by centering a fourth line – that included Reaves – pressured and frustrated Winnipeg’s offensive players.
The playoff contributions by Reaves, Bellemare and regular season heroics by Subban are notable because they, like most of the players on the Golden Knights’ roster, are cast-offs – dispatched to the desert by other NHL teams.
Timing was right
for Ryan Reaves' first goal
as a Golden Knight pic.twitter.com/yMgGsXE3CF
— Vegas Golden Knights (@GoldenKnights) May 20, 2018
Bellemare and Subban probably didn’t envision playing for hockey’s Holy Grail when the 2017-18 season began in October. Reaves thought he’d be competing for the Cup on a different team.
They each took a different path to Vegas.
Bellemare’s was more direct. He’s an original Golden Knight, chosen in last June’s expansion draft – a smorgasbord of hand-me-down players served up by the NHL’s 30 other teams. He was plucked from the Philadelphia Flyers.
He quickly established himself as a key part of Golden Knights, earning the assistant captain’s “A” for his jersey. He tallied 6 goals and 10 assists in 72 regular season games in 2017-18.
Bellemare has no goals and 1 assist in 15 playoff contests. But the beauty of Bellemare is what he does defensively, making the opposition work for offensive opportunities. He also is a top-notch penalty killer.
Subban wasn’t even on the Golden Knights roster – or even in the NHL -when the 2017-18 season started.
The younger brother of Nashville Predators defenseman P.K. Subban, was tending goal in the minor leagues for the Providence Bruins, the American Hockey League farm team of the Boston Bruins.
Boston, frustrated by Subban’s progress after selecting him in the first round of 2012 NHL draft, placed him on waivers in October 2017. The Golden Knights quickly claimed the athletic, acrobatic goaltender.
Subban played a pivotal role in Vegas’ improbable season, filling in for an injured Marc-Andre Fleury. He earned his first NHL victory against the Bruins, the team that dispatched him. In December, Subban had a 41-save, 4-3 win against Nashville and big brother P.K.
He finished the regular season with 13-4-2 record in 22 games with a 2.68 goals-against average.
Reaves expected to be chasing the Stanley Cup – for the Pittsburgh Penguins. Reaves, one of the NHL’s most-feared tough guys, was acquired by the Eastern Conference Penguins from the Western Conference St. Louis Blues before the 2017-18 season began.
His mission was to add muscle and on-ice protection for high-scoring forwards Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Phil Kessel. But the Pens shipped Reaves back west to Vegas in February for a 2018 fourth-round draft pick.
“Out West, every team seems to have a little bit of physicality to them. I like playing that game,” Reaves told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette in February. “I like to play a little heavier.”
He relished the role of the heavy against his hometown Jets. Reaves proclaimed himself the strongest player in the NHL, a title usually associated with Dustin Byfuglien, Winnipeg’s physically-imposing, offensively-talented defenseman.
Reaves appeared in 58 regular season games for the Penguins and 21 contests for the Golden Knights. He had 4 goals, 6 assists and 94 penalty minutes between the two teams. His game-winning goal Sunday was his first point in six playoff games.
Should the Golden Knights win the Stanley Cup, Bellemare would be the latest black player to have his name engraved on trophy.
His name would join those of goaltenders Grant Fuhr (Edmonton Oilers – 1984, 1985, 1987, 1998, 1990), Eldon “Pokey” Riddick (Oilers – 1990) and Ray Emery (Chicago Blackhawks – 2013), forwards Dustin Byfuglien (Blackhawks -2013) and Jamal Mayers (Blackhawks-2013), and defensemen Johnny Oduya (Blackhawks-2013, 2015) and Trevor Daley (Penguins – 2016, 2017).
Reaves and Subban are currently ineligible to have their names engraved. NHL rules state that a player has to appear in at least 41 games with the team playing for the Cup or appear in at least one Stanley Cup Final contest.
Given his game-winning heroics Sunday, Reaves will likely be in the Vegas lineup in the Final against Washington or Tampa Bay.
Subban is a different matter. He didn’t play a minute in the playoffs. He’s not likely to see action in the Final unless Fleury – a leading contender for the Conn Smythe Trophy as the league’s most valuable post-season player – is injured or is replaced because of a poor performance.
If Subban doesn’t play in the Final, the Golden Knights could petition the league to have his name added to the Cup.
The Blackhawks successfully petitioned to have Mayers name engraved after he appeared in only 19 regular season games and no playoff contests during the team’s 2012-13 Cup-winning season.
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