Friday, Nov. 16, 2018 | 2 a.m.
When Deryk Engelland first came to Las Vegas, he was a 21-year-old hockey player from Edmonton who had already kicked around the minor leagues for five seasons. Assigned to the new ECHL mid-level team the Las Vegas Wranglers, he was six years away from his NHL breakthrough with the Pittsburgh Penguins and had yet to meet his wife, Melissa, who moved to Las Vegas to pursue a master’s degree at UNLV the previous summer.
But he realized pretty quickly that Las Vegas was a great place to be. “It was a little more difficult back then, making $500 a week and trying to survive on that,” Engelland said during our conversation on the latest episode of the All the Vegas podcast, available at allthevegas.com. “Luckily, I met my wife shortly into the season, and she definitely took care of me.”
She was the foundation for Engelland’s new life in Las Vegas, the city he would continue to call home no matter where hockey would take him—Lowell, Massachusetts; North Charleston, South Carolina; and three different towns in Pennsylvania. He and Melissa had decided Vegas was the spot.
“It’s the people. It’s a big city with a small-town feeling,” Engelland said. “Everyone is so friendly and helpful. And then you can go outside in shorts and a T-shirt eight months out of the year. It’s a lot more outdoorsy than a lot of people think.”
Engelland famously cemented his love of Las Vegas last season as an anchoring defenseman for the Vegas Golden Knights during the team’s historic inaugural season—“the most fun I’ve ever had in my hockey career,” he said.
“The day they announced the team, my wife made a T-shirt—it didn’t have a logo or anything on it, but it had my name and No. 5—just to throw out the vibes. Since day one, we hoped we would end up here, and we actually built a house here two and a half years ago. My contractor and friend brought dirt in to build up the lot from the T-Mobile [Arena site]. And fortunately, we ended up here. Building a team from the expansion draft on was amazing, and I didn’t think it would get this big this fast. To see it go that quick, I never expected it.”
Engelland has stepped into a new role with the Knights. He’s a guy who does TV commercials, a guy who shows up at all different types of community events and a guy who addresses an emotional crowd of thousands of Las Vegans searching for a way to heal after October 1.
“On every other team, I kind of fly under the radar. You just come to the rink and do your job,” he said. “Being from Las Vegas already helps, and being an older guy. But it’s fun to get out and be able to do those things. You meet a lot of great people.”
Engelland has made it his job to meet even more Las Vegans by creating the Engelland’s Vegas Born Heroes Foundation this year. Its mission is to publicly recognize and reward local charities and community members who selflessly help others.
The effort has started small, Engelland said, selecting 20 nominated heroes to attend a Golden Knights game to be recognized and receive a jersey and Vegas Born Hero shirt. “We’re hoping to be able to grow it into something more, maybe raising money for the community,” he said. “There are so many little things people are doing that you might not know about, and it’s just amazing that people take their spare time to help other people out. That’s what we’re trying to do, too.”
This story originally appeared in the Las Vegas Weekly.