It can be one of the more contrived sources of motivational tactics in sports.
It can also work if used in the right way.
Us Against the World.
It seems that’s how the Golden Knights might prefer to approach the season, to know what outside noise suggests but certainly not buy into it.
The team that missed the playoffs for the first time in its short franchise history last season opened training camp Thursday and to a man insisted there is much to prove.
“You always try to bring different motivation to the team, a different energy, ideas to bond together and try to generate great chemistry quickly,” forward Reilly Smith said. “We know we fell short last year because of injuries or whatever — it doesn’t matter. We have high standards for this group, and if we don’t make the playoffs, it’s on us.
“We’re focusing on what we can do in this room. We just have to make sure we’re keeping each other accountable.”
Lots to prove
They’re certainly not liked by other teams and their fans. Haven’t been since advancing to the Stanley Cup Final in that magical expansion season of 2017-18. Shouldn’t matter. Rarely has.
I’m not sure what has gotten into some Canadians in the bread aisle at super markets, but if you hear team captain Mark Stone tell it, you’d think there’s some serious bitterness toward everything that is Golden Knights.
It was Stone who told the team’s website about all those back home who suggested that the Knights wouldn’t be worth their skates this season.
That the team was suddenly David instead of Goliath.
Pretty talented group of Davids, no?
You’d think they still have the ability to sling a few mighty pucks at opponents nightly.
Or at least be good enough defensively to win their share of 3-2 games.
Every team has something to prove, from a champion such as the Avalanche to a bottom dweller such as Arizona. The Knights are no different.
Stone needs to prove he has recovered from back surgery and can return to form, which the Knights desperately need to make any sort of serious push.
Jack Eichel needs to prove he can be the best player on a playoff team, the latter of which he has never experienced.
Someone from a handful of goalies needs to prove he is good enough to succeed in a No. 1 role.
Said goalie Logan Thompson: “You look at the end of the year and how many teams were excited and making funny tweets and posts about us missing. We’re going to use that to fuel us. No one expects us to have a good year. I think we’re really fired up. It was a long summer. We’re ready to go.”
A veteran newcomer such as Phil Kessel needs to prove last season’s goal output (he scored eight in 82 games) was more a byproduct of playing for Arizona State. I mean the Coyotes.
Blue liners need to prove they can adapt and succeed in new coach Bruce Cassidy’s system, annually one of the NHL’s best.
More than a few need to prove the bottom six forward depth isn’t as lacking as most have forecast.
Morale is high
“Obviously, last season is not something we’re proud of,” defenseman Zach Whitecloud said. “No excuses. We need to start off on the right foot and move in the right direction. There’s always going to be people out there who don’t want you to succeed. That’s life. That’s not just in hockey.”
Stone is one who believes such a mantra could do well for the Knights, that having a collective chip of their shoulders might be one thing that carries them early and throughout the season.
“People can think want they want,” Stone said Thursday. “We look healthy. Morale in the room is high. I guess the thing to prove is that we’re still good.”
Us Against the World. It’s mostly a contrived tactic.
It can also work.
Let’s sees what happens.
Ed Graney is a Sigma Delta Chi Award winner for sports column writing and can be reached at email@example.com. He can be heard on “The Press Box,” ESPN Radio 100.9 FM and 1100 AM, from 7 a.m. to 10 a.m. Monday through Friday. Follow @edgraney on Twitter.