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In the wake of unspeakable tragedy, the Vegas Golden Knights try to bring comfort to their new hometown

WHILE THEIR BULK coffee order at Starbucks was busy brewing, Deryk and Melissa Engelland dashed to the grocery store. They grabbed premade sandwiches, fresh fruit and bottles of Gatorade—anything to help nourish first responders who had been working around the clock. "We have to do something," the Vegas Golden Knights defenseman had told his wife, and everywhere they found other groups of locals driven by similar instincts.

The previous night, Oct. 1, Engelland had returned home after the Golden Knights' final exhibition game, put his two sons to bed and fallen asleep early. Hours later, around 12:30 a.m., one of Melissa's close friends called and, in a panicked voice, told them to turn on the television. Four miles away—and only a 20-minute walk from the team's home rink at T-Mobile Arena—a lone gunman had opened fire on concertgoers at the Route 91 Harvest festival, spraying bullets from the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay, killing almost five dozen and wounding hundreds more.

As cellphone footage of the horror looped on the news, the nine-year NHL veteran watched with a familiar pit in his stomach. On Sept. 11, 2001, Engelland, 35, was running on the treadmill at the New Jersey Devils' practice facility when, across the Hudson River, two hijacked planes struck the Twin Towers. On April 19, 2013, he was locked down at a Boston hotel with the Penguins when police embarked on a citywide manhunt for the brothers who bombed the marathon four days earlier. And now one of the deadliest mass shootings in U.S. history had been carried out from a hotel that Engelland can see from his back porch.

"It's crazy I was in the proximity for all of them," he says, though this also means Engelland understands the small roles that sports played after each tragedy. There were the Yankees, who welcomed President George W. Bush to throw out the first pitch at Game 3 of the 2001 World Series. There was David Ortiz, five days after the pressure cookers detonated on Boylston Street, telling Fenway Park, "This is our f------ city."

That is the connection Engelland feels with Las Vegas. He met Melissa 14 years ago, when she was a graduate student at UNLV and he was a minor leaguer with the ECHL's Wranglers. He has spent most summers since in Las Vegas, skating in an annual charity game with local firefighters.

As Vegas's first major pro sports franchise, the Golden Knights were always going to hold a special place in the city's heart. And though none of Engelland's teammates had lived in Las Vegas before arriving less than two months ago, the bonds are being forged far faster than expected, albeit at a horrible cost. "Now Vegas is our new home," defenseman Jason Garrison says. "For something so devastating to happen so soon into this, you just have to give as much support as you can."

In the days after the attacks, players fanned into the community. They posed for pictures at police headquarters, where talk quickly turned to the upcoming season. They signed autographs for fans waiting to donate blood. At the convention center, they hugged a crying couple who had lost a friend at the concert. "I'll remember that forever," Engelland says. "Seeing what they went through, how much they're hurting right now. You want to do so much more."

Every bit helps. Engelland and defenseman Nate Schmidt each bought 20-game ticket packages for surviving victims and first responders. Foundations run by Vegas owner Bill Foley, the NHL and the Chicago Wolves—Vegas's minor-league affiliate—together donated $500,000. Last Friday, as the Golden Knights won their season-opener in Dallas, 2--1, a viewing party raised money to support Nick Robone, an assistant coach for UNLV's club ice hockey team who was shot but survived. "I knew [Las Vegas] was a small town and everyone is there for everyone," Engelland says, "but it's definitely showing a whole new side, how much everyone wants to help."

Making their home debut Tuesday, each of the Knights was escorted onto the ice by a local first responder, and the team held a 58-second moment of silence, during which the names of the 58 slain were projected onto the ice.

Ultimately how the Golden Knights fit into the healing process isn't really up to them. Their games might comfort some, inspire others, or maybe even feel trivial. Regardless, they are part of Las Vegas now. That's the message Robone gave a group of players who surprised him at the trauma ICU at Sunrise Hospital on Oct. 4. Largely thanks to his younger brother Anthony, a 25-year-old firefighter and paramedic who also attended the concert, Nick, 28, survived a bullet wound to his left chest. He faces a long recovery from a bruised lung. "Not everyone has the same amount of support I do," he told them. "I have a professional hockey team coming to visit me."

In other words, the city needs them. "From where they're at, as these new leaders of our community, they have this platform, they have this way to reach out to every corner of the valley," Anthony says. "It's a big step for these guys. But the way they've presented themselves, the medium they have, I think they can handle it."

"Vegas is our new home," Garrison says. "For something so devastating to happen, you just have to give as much support as you can."



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