LAS VEGAS — Vegas Golden Knights defenseman Deryk Engelland says before Tuesday night the largest group he ever spoke in front of “was the 20 guys in the dressing room.”
He was understandably nervous to have a microphone in his hands in front of 18,191 fans before what Vegas coach Gerard Gallant called “the most important game we will ever play.”
Engelland responded by making a memorable speech and then followed it up by scoring an early first-period goal to help lead Vegas to a 5-2 win against the Arizona Coyotes in the first regular-season home game for the Golden Knights.
“I thought his speech was unbelievable — he made a great speech out there on the ice and then for us to come out and play the way we did for the first seven or eight minutes was incredible,” Gallant said. “It was the perfect script for us.”
Engelland’s speech came at the end of an emotional pregame ceremony that honored the memories of the 58 people killed in last week’s mass shooting on the Las Vegas Strip. The Golden Knights also saluted the first responders who helped save many that night.
A 14-year resident of Las Vegas, Engelland said he met his wife in the city and his children were born there. He said he could relate to the fans because he was proud to be from Las Vegas.
He then thanked all of the first responders for the work they do.
“Vegas Strong,” he said in closing.
Engelland’s speech and the 58-second moment of silence for all of the victims supplied some of the most poignant moments of the ceremony.
“From Deryk, it came right from the heart,” teammate James Neal said. “He has been here a long time, and it really hits home for him. He’s a great teammate. There’s no better guy to talk in front of a crowd. I think everyone appreciated it.”
It seemed more than fitting, like a Hollywood twist, when Engelland was one of two players to score to give the Golden Knights a 2-0 lead 4:18 into the game.
Engelland has only scored 23 goals in 472 NHL games.
“I was just trying to block everything out and try to get through it,” Engelland said about the speech. “But it was great to see the response from the fans.”
He said he worked on his speech for a couple of days. “And it wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be,” he said.
Gallant had been worried about how his team would start after such a moving pregame ceremony. He thought it was possible that they would be mentally drained.
But the Golden Knights, the first expansion team ever to start 3-0, seem to be feeding off their desire to help their community work through the grieving process.
“There were a lot of emotions out there,” Engelland said.
This was a trying situation for the Golden Knights, who drastically modified their first game plans to pay their respects to a community that was suffering.
Anyone who was there would say they handled it perfectly — particularly Engelland, who did the heavy lifting.
“(The players) did an unbelievable job,” Gallant said. “When we picked the team in the expansion draft we talked about getting good people and I think we did that.”