Sam Morris/Las Vegas News Bureau
Friday, Aug. 24, 2018 | 2 a.m.
Golden Knights’ defenseman Deryk Engelland called firefighter Eric Littmann to ask what he could do to help.
It was hours after the mass shooting on the Strip and Engelland wanted his friend to know he was available to assist. Soon, Engelland and his wife, Melissa, filled their car with food and water and raced to the firehouse to help feed first responders.
Engelland's unforgettable "Vegas Strong" speech, delivered at center ice at the first home game in Vegas history, thrust him into the national spotlight as a leader in the community. What many didn’t realize is the longtime resident has been helping others here for years outside the spotlight.
Engelland will take the ice at 5 p.m. Saturday at City National Arena for the sixth-annual charity hockey game involving professional players and local firefighters. The game raises money to help underprivileged children afford hockey equipment and team fees.
“We’ve known Deryk Engelland for years, and he and his wife, Melissa, are two of the most gracious, warm-hearted people I’ve ever met,” said Julie Ann Littmann, husband of Eric and one of five board members who run the charity game. “Their community is so important to them.”
Julie Ann and Eric Littman, along with friends and fellow firefighters Gregg Burns, Chris Sproule and Steve Burton, make up the board that started the charity six years ago. The group loves hockey and wants to make sure children whose parents couldn’t afford equipment and travel fees were able to play.
The money has helped fund players with youth hockey teams across the valley, including the Junior Wranglers, Flames, Nevada Storm and now the Vegas Junior Knights. Children can apply for the “scholarships” by filling out a confidential application and writing an essay on why they love the sport of hockey, and a third-party source determines how the money is distributed.
“Hockey is such an expensive sport between the equipment and the travel team,” Littman said. “It’s so important that we’re able to help them with scholarships to pay for team fees and the travel associated with it.”
A portion of last year’s total were donated to “honorary firefighter” Wesley Payton, who lost his battle to acute myeloid leukemia, to help his family with medical bills.
Littman said the funds generated from the game have risen every year, and with this event they expect to fly by last year’s total of about $5,000.
“When we first started, we would always have between 200-400 people in attendance,” Littman said. “It was mostly parents of the kids who play here in town, and families that we gave scholarships to through the years.”
With the explosion of the popularity of hockey in Las Vegas over the last year, and a move to the Golden Knights’ practice facility — City National Arena — this year’s game will likely sell out with over 1,000 people.
“It’s going to be a lot bigger than the last few years,” Engelland said. “There will probably be a few more people there to watch. Hopefully we get a packed-house and everyone enjoys the game.”
Engelland will be joined on the ice by Golden Knights teammates Jon Merrill, Nick Holden and Gage Quinney, as well as Jason Zucker of the Minnesota Wild, who grew up in Las Vegas. Some former Wranglers will join the pros on the ice, including Eric Lampe, Mike Madill, Marc Magliarditi and Aaron Power.
“It’s a lot of fun and there are some good players out there,” Engelland said. “They buzz around and it’s all for the charity.”
The rest of the rosters will be made up of Clark County Fire Department, Las Vegas Fire and Rescue, Henderson Fire Department, North Las Vegas Fire Department and Metro Police.
“I know a lot of firemen and that’s part of the fun — being on the ice with them,” Engelland said. “You have a little bit of fun, and anything you can do to raise money for a good cause is always fun to do.”
Adult tickets are $20 and children under 12 are $10 and can be purchased at City National Arena the day of the game. There will also be a raffle and a live auction with NHL jerseys, sticks and a firefighter helmet signed by all players involved in the game.