LAS VEGAS — Vegas Golden Knights defenseman Deryk Engelland stood before the crowd at the NHL Awards on Wednesday night at the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino, thanking those in attendance after having won the Mark Messier Leadership Award for “the player who exemplifies great leadership qualities to his team, on and off the ice.”
Last October, he stood before another crowd in Vegas, at the Knights’ home opener. They were fans, friends and neighbors who had been shaken by the Oct. 1 shooting on the Las Vegas Strip. His speech before that game, in which he declared they were all “Vegas Strong,” could end up being the moment that defines his career, according to Engelland.
That tragedy, and two others that occurred during the 2017-18 season, ended up defining the NHL Awards ceremony: The February shooting massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, that claimed the lives of 17 people; and the Humboldt Broncos bus crash in April, that killed 16 people, including 10 players for the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League team.
Each tragedy received a video tribute, and the victims were honored on stage. The One October shooting video chronicled how the Golden Knights organization responded with support to the community. That included the emotional opening night speech by Engelland, on a night that saw players walk out on the ice with local first responders. Several of them were invited on stage at the awards. They were joined by Knights players as well as coach Gerard Gallant and GM George McPhee as the crowd chanted “Go Knights Go!”
“You’re the real MVPs,” said Knights forward William Karlsson in accepting the Lady Byng Trophy.
Also on stage: Nick Robone, an assistant hockey coach at UNLV, who was shot during the attack. He helped announce the Jack Adams Award for coach of the year, which was captured by Gallant.
Engelland said the bond between his team and the city helped fuel the Knights’ record-setting playoff run.
“Right away when it happened, the guys wanted to get out into the community. As bad as it was, it got us embedded in the community and the community embedded in us,” Engelland said. “The guys really took it upon themselves to keep winning for the people in the city.”
An emotional video recounting the Humboldt tragedy and its aftermath was shown as well. Ten players from the Humboldt Broncos, two of them in wheelchairs, were reunited at the awards for the first time since the crash, all of them wearing their yellow jerseys.
“Three of our teammates couldn’t be here tonight, because they’re still recovering in the hospital. We’re honored to represent them tonight,” said Broncos player Kaleb Dahlgren, who thanked the hockey community around the world for its support, including “putting hockey sticks on their doorsteps” in a symbolic gesture.
Broncos coach Darcy Haugan was the posthumous recipient of the inaugural Willie O’Ree Community Hero Award, presented “to an individual who — through the game of hockey — has positively impacted his or her community, culture or society.”
In Haugan’s memory, the National Hockey League Foundation will donate $10,000 to a charity that was important to him — the Saskatchewan Brain Injury Association. His wife Christina Haugan accepted the award on his behalf. After that, each victim of the crash was shown in an “In Memoriam” video.
The shooting in Parkland was covered in a video that included Florida Panthers goalie Roberto Luongo‘s speech on the ice before a home game following the tragedy, as well as the support the Stoneman Douglas High School boy’s hockey team received in playing in nationals. Four members of that team were introduced by Luongo and brought out on stage in their high school sweaters to a standing ovation, standing with members of the Panthers team and management.
Luongo said that “in the months since 17 lives were lost, these young men and their classmates were an inspiration.”
At the end of the NHL Awards show, the players from Humboldt and Stoneman Douglas and the Vegas first responders took the stage with players that won awards that evening. As Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman Victor Hedman said during his Norris Trophy Award speech: “It goes to show that hockey isn’t just a sport, it’s a family, and you guys are an inspiration.”