LAS VEGAS – Expansion teams aren’t supposed to turn heads in their first season. Or typically in their second. Or third.
It doesn’t matter the sport. Expansion teams aren’t even expected to turn in a winning record for a few years.
But the Vegas Golden Knights aren’t only winning, they’re tipping the NHL upside down. Right now, they own the league’s best record and just set an NHL record for home wins by an expansion team.
One of the guys keeping players on the ice with athletic tape and know-how is former Billings Bulls trainer Mike Muir, now assistant athletic trainer for the Golden Knights.
“Every Canadian kid’s dream is to make it to the NHL, and I wasn’t going to do it playing,” said Muir while chatting on the home team’s bench before a December game against defending Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh.
So Muir jumped into the sports medicine field and here he is, his first NHL job with a team unexpectedly on fire.
When asked about his reaction after being offered the job in Las Vegas, Muir recalled, “Pretty excited. It was a short turnaround.”
That’s because, Muir says, the Golden Knights made most of their primary hires early. His wasn’t until late August with very little time before camp. Then there was the rushed scramble to stock the locker room, equipment room, training room — start-up franchise necessities.
“We have to order everything — every little piece of equipment, every piece of medical tape, everything,” Muir said.
Now, Muir’s game night duties are handled right there on the bench.
“Essentially I’m a liaison,” he said. “Kyle (Moore, associate head athletic trainer) will go on the ice and look after them (players) at that time. If he needs something else, to see a doctor in the training room, then I’ll take them off and into the training room.”
And Muir has certainly seen guys hauled off the ice. He recalls some injuries more gruesome than you’ll see elsewhere.
“You know, I’ve got to say some sort of skate cut,” he said. “That can get pretty deep pretty quick. I’ve seen some tendons cut and some deep cuts with a lot of bleeding.”
And then you have the typical loss of tooth. Or teeth.
“That’s one of the great things about hockey players, is they don’t seem to mind too much about losing the teeth,” he laughed. “We had a situation where James Neal got hit with a stick and lost his whole top row of teeth. He came off and our oral maxillofacial (surgeon) sewed him up. He was back in the next period and away he went.”
Call it job security. As long as guys continue to suffer injuries, Muir continues to see work.
And not just at home games. Muir is one of two trainers to travel with the team, so he works all 82 games, plus playoffs.
“We have three equipment mangers, and postgame they pack up the gear, put it on the truck and when we arrive at the next city, we unload, set up the room, off to the hotel, back up in the morning for practice. Then rinse and repeat. That’s all we do,” Muir said.
Occasionally in the offseason, Muir gets back to Billings where he spent those three seasons with the Bulls in the 1990s.
“Married a Billings girl — former sheriff of Yellowstone County, Chuck Maxwell, his daughter Kim,” Muir smiled. “I definitely out-kicked the coverage with Kimmy, as they say, yep.”