As he recalls the many questions that have stockpiled since the NHL expansion draft in late June, Nate Schmidt pictures his new teammate's cell phone buzzing until the battery runs dry. He personally hit up fellow Golden Knights defenseman Deryk Engelland once this offseason, quizzing the longtime Las Vegas resident about neighborhoods, gyms, the practice facility, even whether to rent a U-Haul for the big move. "And I bet that every single person on the team has contacted him already," Schmidt says. "Usually you can ask around and get a consensus answer for things. Here he's pretty much the end-all, be-all of any advice."
Reaching out for recommendations happens in every locker room, in every sport, whenever fresh faces enter. Nothing novel there. But while Engelland, 35, has spent most of the past 14 summers living in Las Vegas, planting roots with his family in the desert, none of his teammates share that experience. Heck, no one in the entire league does. This thrusts the Golden Knights' oldest player into a unique role on their inaugural roster. "He's like the concierge," says one team staffer—number 29 in your programs, 411 in your address book.
The concierge recognizes all these queries getting lobbed his way, because he's stood in those skates before. When a winding minor league journey ended with Engelland making the Penguins in 2010-11, he lived into a hotel until November, figuring out Pittsburgh on the fly. Upon signing with Calgary in July 2014, he called Flames captain Mark Giordano for help on housing. Which is how the Engelland Travel Bureau opened for business eight weeks ago...and hasn't closed since. "Every single guy, except for me, has to look for a house," he says. "And I've heard there's not a whole lot to choose from."
Some connections were easy, like goalie Marc-Andre Fleury, a former teammate and close friend. The hockey grapevine handled the rest. Engelland hung out with defensemen Brayden McNabb and Jason Garrison during the expansion draft at T-Mobile Arena. Schmidt got his number from Washington's Brooks Orpik, who like Fleury played with Engelland in Pittsburgh. He and center Erik Haula both attended the wedding of Minnesota's Jason Zucker—fittingly enough the NHL's only Las Vegas product—which recently led to Engelland hosting Haula for a few beers after a long weekend of hunting houses.
The operation is expanding. When teammates ask for a realtor, Engelland refers them to a friend in town. ("He should cut me a little deal," he jokes. "I haven't talked that out yet.") His wife, Melissa, teaches Pilates at a local studio and hopes the influx of hockey families might bring new clientele. "I think she probably texts with more wives and girlfriends than I have guys," Engelland says. "We joke about it all the time: She's my secretary. She gets all my emails and takes care of all that stuff."
Chances are that Engelland wouldn't be here without Melissa. They met at the outset of his pro career, while she was earning her master's degree at UNLV and he was making $500 per week with the Wranglers of the ECHL, working out for free at Gold's Gym because their rink at The Orleans casino didn't have a weight room. "They had a few hookups for us," Engelland says. "It was nice when you're not going out, spending a whole whack-load of money and calling the parents to deposit money in your account."
One night, both were at an Irish pub across the street called McMullan's, where players ate for a discount after every game. Life would take the couple elsewhere—South Carolina, Pennsylvania, Alberta—but they kept coming back to Las Vegas. Today they have two sons and a half-acre lot with a pool, trampoline, sandbox and swing set, located roughly equidistant between the Golden Knights' practice facility in suburban Summerlin and T-Mobile Arena on the Strip. Engelland upgraded gyms too, Vegas-style, and now works out with a former world strongman. Among his workout partners is Ross McMullan, son of the restaurant owner. At the end of each summer, they say goodbye with a meal there.
Until Vegas GM George McPhee called Engelland's camp during the team's exclusive window for contacting free agents, though, it was shaping up to be a difficult year for his family. Their oldest son, Cash, enters kindergarten in the fall, which would've meant a school year of shuttling between Las Vegas and wherever Engelland wound up next. "To be able to be a part of this expansion, in our hometown, it was a no-brainer for us," Engelland says. "My wife texts me all the time, she's so excited, so happy that we get to be here at home and the boys get to see me play at home and stay in school with their friends. That was big for us."
When the dust ultimately settled, the Golden Knights decided against choosing from Calgary's list of unprotected players under contract and instead signed Engelland to one-year deal worth $1 million. According to CapFriendly.com, he can also earn another $1 million in performance bonuses. If those are tied to taking calls, Engelland might already be there. "I bet he's more excited than anyone to get the season started," Schmidt says, "so guys will get down there, get acclimated with each other, and start exchanging information that way. Then people will just ask for restaurants to eat at. Not, Where should I live? Or, I need a realtor and some insurance, who do I talk to? Where should I go to dinner? will be a lot easier to answer."
Indeed, the time will soon come when Engelland's recommendations are no longer needed. But for now everyone has one place to turn. "You get information from realtors and staff on the team," Schmidt says, "but to actually get it from a player, it holds a lot more value because you know that guy's gone through it, he's done the same thing as you are." When Haula visited town earlier this month, he blitzed through 20 houses in two days. After narrowing the list, he swung by Engelland's place for a second opinion. "Anything that you need, any questions that you have, he's trying to do everything he can to prepare or help everyone," Haula says. "That's just awesome to have, especially when there's only one guy."
Mostly Haula and Engelland talked about the upcoming season, pointing out Golden Knights gear they spied around the city, pitching ideas for team bonding trips. (Top of the list: drive cars at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.) It's unclear what his on-ice role will be among a blue line containing 11 one-way contracts, including some much younger puck-movers like Schmidt, Colin Miller, and Shea Theodore. But Vegas clearly targeted Engelland for more than whatever's left in the tank, after he appeared in a career-high 81 games with the Flames last season. "The main reason was they want good leadership in the locker room," says his agent, Allain Roy. "That was the first thing they mentioned."
And good leadership, at least during this singular time in franchise history, means serving as the Golden Knights' human TripAdvisor. His favorite spots: Vintner Grill for wine and appetizers, Mount Charleston for hiking and biking, trampoline parks for entertaining the kiddos. He hasn't golfed Shadow Creek or Southern Highlands, two of the city's top courses, but an influx of 20-something new friends with time to kill should fix that soon. "Anyone can go to the Strip, and you're going to find five-star restaurants at every casino," Engelland says. "But if you can point the guys in the right direction, it's nice to know that you can get a good steak or something without going down there, and get out in the community a little more."
Schmidt, for his part, couldn't squeeze every question into one call. He had planned to check out houses last month until salary arbitration got in the way, so he will have to hustle upon reporting for training camp around Labor Day. He wants to ask about a realtor, but jokes that he could wind up bidding against teammates for the same properties. "I don't know if he's a clay pigeon shooting enthusiast or whatnot," Schmidt says, "but I wonder if he knows anywhere to go."
But Schmidt also worries about bugging too much. It's still August, after all, when training intensifies and the next season curls into view. Not long ago, Haula suggested texting Engelland to help organize a locker room fantasy football league. "Geez," Schmidt thought to himself. "As if this guy needs anything more on his plate."