It was 4:38 a.m. in Rungsted, Denmark, the hometown of Golden Knights forward Jonas Rondbjerg, when the puck flew off his stick and into the net. Rondbjerg hadn’t had a chance to check his phone before he sat at the T-Mobile Arena podium at 10:11 p.m. Las Vegas time, but he knew his parents had seen his first NHL goal.
Rondbjerg became the 13th Danish-born player in NHL history to score a goal Thursday night, and was pleasantly taken aback when informed of the stat. He didn’t stop smiling through this postgame news conference, knowing he’s making the best of his NHL opportunity, like helping Vegas beat the Minnesota Wild 3-2.
“I’m sure my mom saw it. She’s excited to wake up and watch it,” Rondbjerg said. “My dad was asleep I think, but he’ll probably watch the highlights and I’ll give them a call when I get back in the locker room.”
Rondbjerg’s opportunity with the Golden Knights came because of injuries to several of the veteran forwards. With four of the usual forwards out, not including the newly acquired Jack Eichel who is also on injured reserve, Vegas iced a squad tonight in which half of the 12 forwards were not on the postseason roster when the Golden Knights played the Wild in May.
Rondbjerg is one of the beneficiaries, trying to make the best of his chance. He had his first NHL point last week in Ottawa, then scored and assisted on Paul Cotter’s first-period goal on Thursday.
Cotter’s goal was also an NHL first. Like Rondbjerg, Cotter was slated for a spot with the Henderson Silver Knights had the NHL team been at full strength, but was called up and made his debut Tuesday against the Kraken. He opened the scoring tonight, storming down the right wing and beating Cam Talbot from in close to give Vegas an early lead.
Rondbjerg’s goal was similar later in the frame, and just like that, two rookies put Vegas on top of the Central Division-leading Wild 2-0 after 20 minutes.
“I think I was more excited for Jonas’ goal. I almost killed him when I ran into him,” Cotter said. “So cool that we could both share that moment.”
Rondbjerg, Cotter and fellow rookie Jake Leschyshyn have all made their NHL debuts this season and have been thrust not just into the lineup, but into important roles and making an impact on the ice. Rondbjerg and Cotter scored, while Leschyshyn drew a penalty in the second period. Rondbjerg and Leschyshyn are also part of the Vegas penalty-killing rotation and played a role in the unit going 6-for-6 against the Wild.
Don’t get carried away, though. Rondbjerg and Cotter both scored but neither eclipsed eight minutes of total ice time, including fewer than three minutes each in a decisive third period. They’ve been good, but Vegas isn’t fully relying on them just yet.
“Some of our older guys have really done a fantastic job leading the way and these young kids have come in and contributed and followed and done their thing and helped instead of hurt us, which is what we needed,” coach Pete DeBoer said in response to a question about Rondbjerg and Cotter. “But this bus has been driven by our goaltenders and our leadership.”
The Golden Knights turned in one of their most complete efforts of the season Thursday night, and the penalty kill was a large part of that. Vegas took six penalties totaling 9:11 of short-handed time, but even that sells the job the killers did short. Minnesota had 1:46 of 5-on-3 time, as well as 1:03 of 6-on-4 at the end.
And out there for almost all of it was one of the veterans DeBoer mentioned. Brayden McNabb had a monster game, playing 24:43 of total ice time, the most he’s had in three seasons. With him on the ice, Minnesota did not score and generated only three high-danger scoring chances, while Vegas created six.
McNabb also defended almost all of Vegas’ penalties, spending 7:18 of his ice time on the kill, almost 80% of the team’s total time. It was a complete effort from a defenseman who can get overlooked on a team full of flashy scorers from the back end.
“We take a ton of pride in it,” McNabb said of the penalty kill. “It’s been off and on as of late and we wanted to fix it. I thought we did a great job tonight.”
The defense helped support Laurent Brossoit, who started in goal and picked up his second win in three starts this season, and first at T-Mobile Arena.
“It was great. It was a loud, loud building,” Brossoit said. “It’s the best building I’ve ever been a part of.”
McNabb and Brossoit had good nights, as did Jonathan Marchessault who scored the eventual game-winning goal and Reilly Smith who set it up. But all those players have so many NHL games under their belts that in a few years, they likely won’t remember a good night on a Thursday in November.
But Cotter and Rondbjerg will. They will never forget exactly what it was like scoring their first goals and having a crowd of 18,267 celebrate with them.
“It was special,” Rondbjerg said. “Now that I’ve been to other rinks I see how loud T-Mobile is. It’s an amazing atmosphere and such a fun arena to play in.”
For it to come in a win makes it that much better. It was a late night in Las Vegas and an early morning in Denmark. And Rondbjerg’s parents, whether asleep or awake, received a pretty cool phone call from their son after one of the greatest moments of his hockey life.