Tuesday, Oct. 3, 2017 | 4:46 p.m.
Golden Knights defenseman Deryk Engelland had just went to bed Sunday night following the team’s preseason game at T-Mobile Arena when he heard his wife's phone ringing.
“I thought it was the alarm in the morning,” Engelland said. “(Melissa) immediately said something’s wrong, and we turned on the news right away and saw.”
Engelland says he didn’t get much sleep after watching coverage of the massacre that left 59 dead and more than 500 injured on the Las Vegas Strip.
“It’s indescribable,” he said. “You don’t ever think that’s going to happen, especially at home. For something of that extent to happen just blows your mind. I don’t think there are any words that can describe how horrible it is.”
Most players were home when the shooting occurred, but a group of them were eating dinner at the Cosmopolitan. Coach Gerard Gallant was driving home from McCarran International Airport after picking up his daughter.
“I saw a bunch of ambulances driving down the Interstate,” Gallant said. “I knew something was going on but didn’t really know. I turned the radio on and heard about the tragedy.”
Tuesday afternoon, the Golden Knights ventured into the community in an attempt to bring some happiness to those affected most by the shooting. Players Jon Merrill, Jason Garrison, William Karlsson, Griffin Reinhardt, Erik Haula, Engelland and others made three trips, starting with Metro Police headquarters.
The building has been the a location for families to reconnect with lost loved ones, and then the hub from which the police and the FBI are investigating the heinous act.
Tuesday the Golden Knights’ players offered a brief distraction.
“This is really cool,” Detective Robert Alford said. “These guys bring a lot of smiles to everybody’s faces. This is really showing how awesome this community is.”
Alford, who has lived in Las Vegas for more than 30 years, has served with Metro for more than a decade. He laughed and joked with colleagues as they took photos with Golden Knights players and got autographs on hats distributed by the team.
“It takes your mind off of everything that’s going on, and just gives you a minute to relax and put a smile on your face,” Alford said.
On the other side of the wall Sheriff Joe Lombardo updated media on the latest findings in the investigation. Their work is far from over, but officers received a much-needed breath of fresh air from the team.
“From what I’ve seen our officers are performing admirably,” Sergeant Jeff Clark said. “We will be tired, but eventually we will get out sleep. The Golden Knights doing this speaks volumes about the character of their organization.
“The Golden Knights from Day One have promised that they wanted to be an integral part of this community. It’s unfortunate that during their inaugural season this had to happen, but the fact that they’re stepping up and coming down to just provide some entertainment or someone to talk to is amazing.”
As excited as the officers were to meet their favorite players, the feeling was mutual.
“It’s amazing to be able to see these people smile after what they’ve been through for the past few days is amazing,” Merrill said. “You forget about the impact that we are able to have on people as athletes so we’re lucky to be able to bring a distraction to people. These are amazing people, and we are lucky to have them.”
Engelland has lived in Las Vegas for more than 10 years, but the rest of the roster is new to the city. That doesn’t seem to matter.
“You feel very connected,” Garrison said. “We haven’t all been here that long, but the community has welcomed us with open arms and when that happens you feel like you’re part of it right away. In terms of days, weeks or months it hasn’t been that long but it feels a lot longer.”
The Golden Knights also made stops at the Las Vegas Convention Center, where a family assistance center has been established for those affected, and the United Blood Services on West Charleston Boulevard. The team also partnered with the (Bill) Foley Family Charitable Trust and the NHL to donate $300,000 to shooting victims and first responders.
“We want to do whatever we can as professional athletes,” Engelland said. “We want to get out there and help everybody we can whether it’s victims or first responders —whatever we can do to help the community heal, get stronger and build from this.”
The team is less than three days away from the first game in franchise history. They hope their games can be a temporary sanctuary to get Las Vegans minds off the tragedy, if only for a couple hours.
“A big part is just turning your mind off a little bit,” Engelland said. “You come to a sporting event, and you’re not sitting around talking about it. You’re enjoying the experience of the game and the atmosphere of the arena.”
The Golden Knights home opener on Oct. 10 was already expected to be an emotional day for Las Vegas fans who have waited for a major sports franchise. Now it will take on even greater meaning.
“Every time we step on the ice now we are going to be playing for all of the people affected by this terrible tragedy, and we are going to do the best we can every time we’re out there to make people proud of Las Vegas,” Merrill said. “I think it’ll be tough to find a dry eye in that building on opening night.”