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MEN'S HOCKEY: Whitecloud suits up for Golden Knights in NHL debut

Edmonton Oilers forward Anton Slepyshev (58) chases Vegas Golden Knights defenseman Zach Whitecloud (2) for a loose puck during the first period of Thursday night's game at Rogers Place in Edmonton, Alta. Mandatory Credit: Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports

EDMONTON, Alta. -- The big moment finally arrived for Zach Whitecloud.

The former Bemidji State defenseman made his NHL debut Thursday night for the Vegas Golden Knights in a 4-3 loss to the Edmonton Oilers at Rogers Place in Edmonton, Alta.

The rookie told media Thursday afternoon that he had received word the previous day that he would make his first appearance in the lineup.

"You try to do as much as you can to take in every little experience. At some point you've got to make sure that you focus on the right things at the right times," Whitecloud told the team’s website prior to the game. "Obviously it's an incredible experience, but you want to make sure that you do everything in your power to get focused and help this team win."

Whitecloud was on the ice for all three Vegas goals, finishing a team-best plus-3 in 16:42 of ice time Thursday. The Golden Knights came back from a 1-0 first-period deficit to take a 2-1 lead after 40 minutes but allowed three third-period goals in the loss.

The Brandon, Man. native signed a three-year, entry level contract with Vegas on March 8, forgoing his final two years of college eligibility. Whitecloud’s family made the 11-hour drive from Brandon to be in attendance for the game.

He has been practicing with the Golden Knights since signing, but had yet to crack the lineup until Thursday.

"I think I can take a lot of things out of what I've learned in practice. How to be a pro on and off the ice. Conducting yourself in the right way, having the right attitude in practice and treating everything like a game situation helps transferring over to games," Whitecloud said. "I've been doing that all along and just making sure that I pay attention to every little detail. I'm learning from every single guy on this team. All of the coaches and all of the staff in Las Vegas. There's a lot of things that transfer over from practice for sure."

Whitecloud appeared in 36 games for Bemidji State during his sophomore season in 2017-18 and recorded 18 points (4g-14a). For his career, Whitecloud posted 36 points (7g-29a) in 77 games over two seasons.

The Golden Knights have already clinched the Pacific Division title and currently sit at 51-23-7 with 109 points. Vegas will close the regular season Saturday, April 7, in a 9 p.m. contest at Calgary.

Austin Monteith

Austin Monteith is a sports reporter for the Bemidji Pioneer. He is an Illinois native and a Butler University graduate. Follow him on Twitter @amonteith92.

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