The Vegas Golden Knights were the first team to punch their ticket to the second round of the 2020 Stanley Cup playoffs. With a few days to rest, forward Jonathan Marchessault joined Emily Kaplan and Greg Wyshynski on the “ESPN on Ice” podcast to reveal some new details on the bubble experience in Edmonton, Alberta, so far.
Marchessault discusses the Knights’ tandem in net with Robin Lehner and Marc-Andre Fleury, Vegas’ now-famous “Fun Committee,” playoff officiating, fan-less arenas, and why players haven’t exactly received what they’ve been promised from the NHL so far when it comes to bubble amenities.
ESPN: Congrats on making it to the second round, but solving Corey Crawford was tough, huh? He played pretty well the last two games of the series.
Marchessault: Honestly, he played unbelievable. He was definitely on top of his game, and it was actually nice to see him there, because I know he’s been struggling with some injuries in the prior years, but it was nice to see how good he was in the past few games.
ESPN: I want to ask about your goalie situation, specifically Marc-Andre Fleury. For as long as the Golden Knights have existed, he’s been the guy in net, but now has taken a back seat to Robin Lehner. How is he handling that behind the scenes?
Marchessault: Obviously I’m really good friends with Marc, and a big fan of his as well. I mean, we have a situation where we have 1A, 1B. Right now Lenny is doing super well and hopefully it keeps going that way, and Flower is a great teammate. I think he’s happy to be here. He’ll do whatever it takes to make sure our team is successful and he’s a great teammate. Every day, he keeps practicing, one of the hardest on guys still; it’s about his honor. And I’m not necessarily worried about Marc-Andre’s future.
ESPN: As an observer, it feels like the officiating in this tournament has been inconsistent. Do you feel that way?
Marchessault: Honestly? Yeah, a little bit. I mean, [in Game 5 against the Blackhawks], I know it was a 3-3 game or maybe it was 4-3, but there was just some easy call to make, even if it would have happened toward my team, I would have been like, “That’s a call, that’s the way hockey is. You’ve got to play fair.” I feel like they’ve been letting go a lot of stuff, and maybe they want to see a little more play at 5-on-5, which is fine as well. But I mean, at the end of the day, definitely [in Game 5] it could have helped us, but we managed to get the win despite the adversity we were facing.
ESPN: Are you more of a “let the guys play in the playoffs” guy or a “call it like you call it in the regular season” kind of guy?
Marchessault: Well, not necessarily the regular season, obviously you’re going to allow a bit more like scrum stuff and a little more one-on-one battles and stuff like that in the playoffs. But at the end of the day, when there’s a tripping call, a boarding call, a cross check or something, it’s just [hockey] 101, two minutes, you know? I felt like [in Game 5] there could have been a little more called on them, but either way we got the win.
ESPN: In the short time the Knights have existed, you guys have had an identity of being a good offensive team that also takes care of business defensively. Do you think that’s still your identity, even with the coaching change?
Marchessault: I believe so. I believe that we have a lot of guys that take a lot of pride of being good defensively. And I know from experience a little bit, that when we are good defensively, we only get rewarded offensively. We’re just trying to play a north-south game, exit really quick out of our d-zone, and in the o-zone, our coach gives us a lot of liberty to play with hockey instincts still. It’s been going well.
ESPN: Now that you have some time until the next series, as an officer on the Fun Committee, what do you have planned?
Marchessault: Nate Schmidt is pretty much the president of that committee; he comes up with ideas. We’ve done the pingpong tournament, the Mario Kart tournament, the poker tournament, but I think the thing we like to do the most is ordering catered food around 6, 6:30, and there’s a hockey game always in the background, and at 7 o’clock, it’s movie night.
We have popcorn, we have those salt and vinegar seasoning and ketchup and cheddar and all of that stuff, and the hotel does a great job to set up all of the couches in line like a movie theater. It’s cool stuff. I think right now [we’ve had] two of them, but I think we’re going to see more of those. Then maybe tomorrow I think we’re going to golf, but I don’t know if that’s still a go or not, if we’re allowed or not, so we’ll see. Because the NHL promised us a few things at the beginning of the negotiations, but now they’re taking a couple away.
ESPN: Now that you’re three weeks in, are you kind of looking forward to get outside of the bubble to see some scenery that’s not the hotel or rink?
Marchessault: Yeah, I mean the first week we were there, we were at the practice rink. So we’d get in the bus, and it was like 30 minutes away. As bad as it sounds, it was kind of nice because that was the only stuff we could have done. Because at first, they were telling us, “When you come to the bubble, you’ll be able to play golf, you’ll be able to do excursions and stuff like that” and then they said, “Well no, you can’t get out of the bubble for 14 days.” So we were like, “Wow, are you kidding me? What else do we have to do?” So we were literally just in our bubble doing nothing.
This past weekend twice at the [CFL] football field, we played kickball, we played for like an hour and a half, 13 against 13 — trainers were involved, everyone was involved — and it was honestly one of the best times that we had in the bubble for sure.
ESPN: You obviously want to do the things they said they would do for you, like golf excursions, but we’ve also not had any positive tests in three, four weeks now. So how do you strike the balance?
Marchessault: Yeah, obviously we’ve got to be safe with everything, and I think they’re doing a good job of that. But at the same time, we didn’t know what measurement they would be taking for us to go on a golf course, to go on an excursion. In my mind, if you’re saying yes, just make sure everything is planned. A week earlier, we were all going to ship our golf clubs to Edmonton, then two days later they were like, “Oh we can’t go for 14 days.” And after 14 days, we’re in the middle of the playoffs, so right now we’re not really golf-focused, we’re more hockey-focused. So it doesn’t really matter, we’re here to win games.
Overall, the NHL has been doing a good job. Like you said, there’s no positive cases, everyone feels safe, honestly the hotel setup with the restaurants and everything is super well-organized. Testing goes super smoothly every day. That’s well-organized also.
ESPN: Another thing that’s still up in the air is whether families will be able to join in the conference finals as was agreed upon, though it seems like it should happen. You have young kids and a family at home. Are you expecting them to come, and how many of your teammates would be interested in doing that as well?
Marchessault: I’ve had all opinions on that. At first, I was like it won’t be too bad, it will be 30-something days without seeing my family, and they’ll come to meet me if we happen to make it past the second round. Well, now the NHL is telling us that they first of all have to quarantine for a week at home. During that time, they need to get tested three times, and have three negative tests obviously. And after that, they have to fly in private. Our team is fortunate enough that our owner is unbelievable and our team takes such good care of us that they would provide flights for families.
But after that, you have to ask my four kids, all under 6 years old, to stay in a hotel room for four days. It’s not a suite that they have. It’s a two-bedroom, and that’s about it. And you’re asking my wife to stay with four kids in there for four days, I don’t think it’s realistic really. Right now, I know that a lot of our guys on our team with families were waiting to see what’s really going to happen and then we’ll cross the bridge when we get there. But I know personally my wife is leaning toward not coming right now.
ESPN: How hard was it for you and your teammates to adjust to not having that Vegas arena experience and playing in an arena with no fans?
Marchessault: It’s definitely hard. We’re definitely missing them right now. It felt like an eternity right now since the last time I played at “The Fortress.”
But as much as everybody wants to say something about it, it’s just the life we’re living in right now. It’s not going to be like this for 10 years, it’s what we’re living in right now. It’s a new life, and everyone needs to adapt. Right now, we’ve still got to still make an earning. So I know my team is really in [this situation] for a good reason, we’re just here for winning purposes. We’re just focusing on that, and we’re fueling off the energy of possibly one day putting our name on the Stanley Cup. But obviously it’s hard sometimes to get energy when there’s no crowd, but at the end of the day, it’s adversity that all teams have to face.