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December 12, 2018

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Ray Brewer: From the Pressbox

Engelland, the Golden Knights’ go-to guy, exemplifies ‘Vegas Strong’

Arizona Loses To Knights

L.E. Baskow

A first responder walks out onto the ice with Vegas Golden Knights defenseman Deryk Engelland (5) during opening ceremonies at their season home opener game at the T-Mobile Arena Tuesday, October 10, 2017.

Golden Knights Home Opener

A first responder walks out onto the ice with Vegas Golden Knights defenseman Deryk Engelland (5) during opening ceremonies at their season home opener game at the T-Mobile Arena Tuesday, October 10, 2017. Launch slideshow »

Deryk Engelland is one of us.

From the moment he took the microphone before the Vegas Golden Knights’ home opener and delivered a powerful message about our town’s unity in the days after the senseless Oct. 1 massacre, the defender’s status in this town has magnified.

By helping us heal and introducing the team that has given us many reasons to cheer, Engelland became a Las Vegas legend. That’s something he’s humbled by.

“Obviously, I wasn’t coming into this to be the face of the franchise,” Engelland said. “Being seen like that is a huge honor, especially because it’s my hometown. I know how great this city is.”

Engelland is one of the key cogs in the Golden Knights’ unexpected magical season. Remember, at this time last year, Vegas had no players.

Now, the expansion franchise is hosting the Washington Capitals on Monday in the first game of the Stanley Cup Final, and it’s partially because of the great home-ice advantage Engelland deserves partial credit for helping build.

Engelland closed his address to the opening-night crowd by saying, “We are Vegas Strong,” to a loud applause. Seconds later, Vegas took a 1-0 lead. The noise at T-Mobile Arena seemingly hasn’t been silenced — memorable moment after memorable game.

Engelland does many things well for the Golden Knights. Speaking, he admits, isn’t one of them — even with how polished he seemed during the opening-night speech.

”I’m not a big public speaking type of guy. I was nervous for that,” he said.

The eight-year NHL veteran is having the best year of his career, registering 150 blocks at even strength and a career-high 23 points. He’s an average player who is having an above average to great season.

More important, he’s become a leader.

Engelland is not the loudest player in the Golden Knight locker room and his personality could be considered reserved. But when he speaks, it’s compelling. With the help of his wife, he prepared for that opening-night speech.

So, when the Knights clinched the Western Conference against Winnipeg, it was Engelland who picked up the trophy for the franchise.

“He’s been the guy all year since the opening ceremony with his speech. He’s been our go-to guy,” Golden Knights coach Gerard Gallant said. “We didn’t make a big deal out of (who would accept the trophy), but we talked about it just in case we won, and the guys got together and said he’s the guy.

That’s a good choice because he’s been a good leader for us and he’s a good character guy that has been around a long time.”

And he’s been in Las Vegas a long time.

He played for the minor league Las Vegas Wranglers from 2003-05 and liked our town so much he decided to stay. When we got an expansion team, he was an ideal player to pick — a veteran with a short-term contract who had a tie to the area. He’d be the perfect one-year rental.

But, in a true sign of his value, the Knights extended the 36-year-old’s contract in the winter and will have him back next season.

“Vegas is a big town, but we have a small community,” Engelland said. “That’s why we call it home. That is why we continue to call it home.

Building a Stanley Cup champion is the goal of all teams. It’s just when Engelland was picked by Vegas, the strategy wasn’t necessarily to win immediately.

Rather, as owner Bill Foley repeatedly said, they were building to a playoff appearance in three seasons and the Stanley Cup in six.

But the players never bought into that timeline. If there was a game to be played, they wanted to win. What’s happened along the way, especially at home, has become one of the greatest stories in hockey history.

Nobody expected this. But, as Engelland told us on opening night, never count out a group of players and fans who are “Vegas Strong.”

Ray Brewer can be reached at 702-990-2662 or [email protected]. Follow Ray on Twitter at twitter.com/raybrewer21

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