Whitecloud hopes experience of Stanley Cup success helps Golden Knights as playoffs begin

By Sam Laskaris
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Windspeaker.com

Zach Whitecloud believes knowing what it takes to become a Stanley Cup champion could prove to be a key ingredient for the Vegas Golden Knights this season in their playoff run.

Whitecloud, from the Sioux Valley Dakota Nation in Manitoba, is a member of the Golden Knights and was with the team when it captured the National Hockey League title last June.

The Golden Knights earned a berth into the 2024 playoffs this past Friday, April 12, thanks to a 7-2 triumph over the Minnesota Wild at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas.

Windspeaker.com spoke to the 27-year-old defenceman following the Vegas team practice April 13.

“We’ve gone through (the playoffs) quite a few times and we know what is required from us at that time of year,” Whitecloud said.

“Obviously, you want to be playing your best hockey going into it, so focusing on that, playing the right way and doing the right things. And trying to feel our best going into the first round here.”

The 2024 NHL playoffs will commence April 20. Vegas’ opening-round opponent has yet to be determined.

As defending league champions, Whitecloud said the 2023-24 campaign has been a challenging one for the Golden Knights. He said it feels like the club has a target on its back each time it takes to the ice.

“You ask any team that has won it, you’re getting every team’s best every single night throughout the year,” he said. “And especially when you get down the stretch, those old playoff rivals like Edmonton, for one, those games are amplified even more and you try to make a statement. To your question, it definitely (feels like) a target on your back 82 games of the year.”

“Sometimes there’s things that remind you of it, but obviously the memories are great. But at the end of the day, it’s a new time and you have to go win it again. It’s an experience of wanting to get those feelings back. It’s tough to do it once. It’s tough to do it twice. It’s obviously a big challenge, but I’m excited to have a shot to do it again.”

Last year the Golden Knights enjoyed a 51-win regular season and placed atop the league’s Western Conference standings, making them a Stanley Cup favourite.

As for this year, the club, which has two regular season games remaining, has registered 43 wins. Vegas will in all likelihood end up with a conference wildcard spot into the post-season.

“We’re obviously in a different spot than we were last year with playoff positioning,” Whitecloud said. “It doesn’t really matter. You’ve just got to get in.”

Whitecloud also told Windspeaker he enjoys being a role model for Indigenous youth.

“As I’ve gotten older, the attention to it, and just the understanding of the scenario and what kind of position you’re in, you gain a little bit more gratitude for it,” he said.

“I like being a role model for them and somebody to look up to for them as a positive example as someone who has created a career for themselves starting from a small town in southwestern Manitoba and being in the NHL. It’s great for them to see it is possible.”

Since the Golden Knights had a lengthy post-season a year ago, Whitecloud said he didn’t have much time to speak to Indigenous groups following his Cup triumph.

“The time at home was short but it felt like it flew by with all of the Cup stuff,” he said. “So, I didn’t have a ton of time to do something in the summer.”

But he did have an opportunity to speak to an Indigenous youth council in Winnipeg earlier this season.

“That was good to be able to do that,” he said. “That was probably my first time in a couple of years, just with how hard our schedule is and it’s tough to get that stuff in. If I have the time and the schedule allows, you try to make that effort.”