View from bench a welcome sight for Viveiros

Photo: Zak Krill

📝 by Patrick Williams

The view from the bench for Henderson Silver Knights head coach Manny Viveiros came as a welcome respite after a difficult month.

And seeing Viveiros back brightened spirits for a team that had to go without its head coach and deal with a crush of injuries in the first month of the American Hockey League schedule.

For Viveiros, a 55-year-old coaching lifer, standing behind a bench once more put him back in familiar territory, a bright day in what has been a nerve-wracking time.

Last Thursday on the team’s weekly radio show, HSK Today, Viveiros announced that he has been diagnosed with prostate cancer. Viveiros told Silver Knights voice Brian McCormack that a routine blood test during training camp with the Vegas Golden Knights revealed elevated prostate-specific antigen levels. The suspicious finding prompted a follow-up blood test that showed a similar finding, prompting the Golden Knights to have Viveiros see a urologist. A biopsy followed that confirmed prostate cancer.

“We were shocked,” Viveiros recalled of the news. “[It was] the last thing that even came to our mind as far as what could happen. I felt absolutely fine. I still do right now.

“[Thankfully] we do have these tests. The tests that we have at training camp … are going to save a life.”

Still, such a diagnosis could rattle anyone, and the normally even-keeled Viveiros admitted to an onslaught of emotions following the diagnosis.

“First and foremost, in situations like this, for myself, you become very selfish,” Viveiros told McCormack. “You ask yourself, ‘Why me?’ The first thing you think of is your family – my wife and my boys. I still get emotional talking about this sometimes, but you think about your family. You want to be there. You want to be there for a long period of time.”

The diagnosis forced Viveiros to take a leave of absence before the Silver Knights’ season opener against the Colorado Eagles on Oct. 15. With Viveiros out, assistant coaches Jamie Heward and Joel Ward, goaltending coach Fred Brathwaite, and video coach Andrew Doty all picked up the coaching burden for the team’s first four games.

Then Viveiros had to endure an excruciating period of uncertainty. Did that blood test come in time? Had the cancer spread? And in which stage was it? After an agonizing wait to search for answers to those questions finally came some relief.

“We got some really good news over the last week or so,” Viveiros said on Friday.

Any good coach has a plan, so Viveiros and his medical team then set about determining their next steps. They settled on surgery in December, which will necessitate another short leave of absence for Viveiros.

“Now we have a game plan,” Viveiros said. “Now we know what we can do and [have] a way we’re going to treat this and go after this. So for me, the hardest part, not just for myself but especially for my family, was not knowing.

“But now we know, and we’re going to do whatever we can to meet this head-on, and hopefully we can beat this.”

Then the news improved even more for Viveiros. He could step back into coaching, and he did exactly that one day after his announcement. With a late-morning Nevada Day meeting with the visiting Bakersfield Condors on Oct. 29, Viveiros went back to manning the Henderson bench against one of the Silver Knights’ biggest rivals.

“Just to get back with the guys again for me, personally, was everything,” Viveiros said.

Bakersfield defenseman Dmitri Samorukov’s goal with five seconds to go in regulation dealt the Silver Knights a painful 3-2 loss. But the following night in a rematch with the Condors, the Silver Knights grabbed a win for Viveiros, taking a 4-2 decision on two third-period goals.

“It was big,” forward Paul Cotter said of Viveiros returning. “He is a huge part of our team, and all of us look up to him. He’s one of the best coaches I’ve ever had. He’s a player’s coach, so he has good relationships with all of us. To have him back out there was really good, to know that he was behind us and comforting to have him back there.”

Viveiros came to the Las Vegas area in August 2020 shortly after the organization had set up its new local AHL affiliate just minutes away from T-Mobile Arena. In his first season guiding the Silver Knights, Viveiros took the team to the Pacific Division’s top regular-season record at 25-13-0-1.

Before the promotion to the Golden Knights organization, Viveiros had spent time with the Western Hockey League’s Spokane Chiefs and Swift Current Broncos and also had with an assistant-coaching stint with the Edmonton Oilers. His work with Swift Current in 2017-18 won him WHL Coach of the Year honors as the Broncos took the WHL championship. Before that move into Western Canada, he had spent 10 seasons handling coaching and management roles in Austria (EC Klagenfurt) and Germany (ERC Ingolstadt) following a playing career as a defenseman that stretched for parts of 22 seasons, including a Calder Cup championship with the Springfield Indians in 1991. His coaching resume also includes leading Austria three times in World Championship play as well as the 2014 Winter Olympics.

When Viveiros came to the Silver Knights, he quickly made an impression on his players with his calm approach.

“Manny does such a good job with us players,” Cotter said. “I think he is very smart with certain players and how to get his point across. Instead of him trying to be an old-school coach and just screaming and hollering, I think he understands certain players and can get through to them in his own way, which not too many people can do.

“Manny, he genuinely cares about you as a person, and it’s pretty amazing to play for a guy like that.”

Being back among his players and fellow coaches puts Viveiros in a place he knows best.

“[Hockey] is my life,” Viveiros said. “I grew up playing hockey since probably three or four years old. It’s been an everyday part of my life up until now. My wife, I met her in junior hockey at 16 years old. My boys grew up playing the sport. So, everything [that] surrounds this game has been given to us in such a positive way.

“The best place for me to be right now is back here with my team and while I can do it. Again, I’m still very healthy here, and I don’t have any side effects as of now as far as with this disease. So hopefully we [caught] it early enough, and I won’t miss that much time in December.”

Viveiros will have many more opportunities behind the bench before his December surgery. Henderson hosts the Ontario Reign on Wednesday before welcoming the Tucson Roadrunners to Orleans Arena for a Friday-Saturday set. The Silver Knights’ November schedule features 10 games before the team has eight more contests in a 19-day span in December.

“He’s a role model to all of us,” third-year defenseman Brayden Pachal said of Viveiros. “And he’s an extension of our family. So obviously, he’s going through a struggle, and any time that we can be there for him, we’re going to do that.”