by WG RAMIREZ
LAS VEGAS (AP) — Jack Eichel is finally enjoying playing hockey again, and he couldn’t be more grateful.
Just over a year after having an artificial disc replacement on his neck, he’s at the top of his game and loving his new home with the Vegas Golden Knights.
“It’s been so much fun coming to the rink every day and being with these guys,” said Eichel, who has 26 points in 21 games this season. “You rarely get a set that’s bought all together and I feel like that’s the case for us.”
Eichel is on his way to finishing with 101 points after scoring a goal and adding an assist in a 4-1 home win Wednesday night over Ottawa. His career high is 82 points in 2018-19 with Buffalo.
His divorce from the sword is well documented and left a sour taste in everyone’s mouth on both sides.
And when Eichel returned to Buffalo near the end of last season, he didn’t accept the unfriendly welcome he received from Sabers fans, who booed him every time he stepped on the ice.
This season, the 26-year-old dynamo has been better prepared mentally.
“I think going to Buffalo this year I had a different expectation of what was going to happen,” Eichel said. “I think last year I wasn’t sure how I was going to be received. I think maybe there was a part of me hoping I would have a more positive reception, but having had it last year and learning from that experience, I just tried to go in with a different mindset this year. Obviously I’m I knew what the reception was going to be like, so there was nothing to surprise me.”
Eshel of Buffalo skated with the last laugh this time. He scored his third career hat-trick – his first with Vegas – while adding an assist in the 7-4 win that capped a 5-0-0 road trip for the Golden Knights.
“You know this is going to be an emotional game at the end of the journey, and you’re just trying to find whatever energy is left in your system to play that game,” Eichel said. “Emotionally, it doesn’t take much to get up and play for the opposing team. I’m sure if you asked anyone here who moved on, it’s always easy to get up and get emotionally attached to the game.”
Eichel has been contacted since the season opener, and has had at least one point in 16 of the team’s first 21 games. But he’s not about to take credit for the good state of mind he’s in for the first time in several years.
He said the chemistry in Vegas comes from the locker room known for building friendships and bonds since the franchise’s entry into the NHL in 2017.
“It is the credit of all the men here,” said Eshel. “No one is on their own page, everyone is together, everyone wants the person next to them to do a good job and it was so much fun to be a part of that.”
Eichel said it had been a while since he enjoyed driving to the rink every day, traveling with teammates, being on planes and buses, and making friends with the guys who bring their special status to one of the best rosters in the league.
And the feeling is mutual.
Jonathan Marchesault, an original Golden Knight who was part of the team’s expansion draft, recalls how an inaugural team get together off the ice was a huge reason for his amazing run to the Stanley Cup Final.
With so many similarities to that chemistry, Marquisault said Eichel is a perfect fit.
“It wasn’t a great thing for us,” Marcisault said. “He’s a laid-back guy, he likes to have fun and that’s all we’re about here. We’re all about having fun and being professional and winning some games. And when we do, it’s probably the best chemistry you can have.”
Then there are his snowboarding skills.
“Guys like that, it’s another world, you know?” Marchessault has been added. “It’s another world of skills that none of us have. It’s just the way he plays. He’s just such a talented hockey player. He has all the skills you need to be a high performing hockey player, and he has them and he brings them every night. He’s a game-changer for us and we’re lucky.” for his existence.”
Thanks Knights, all around.
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