NHL players, coaches ponder 'Las Vegas effect'
Flames defenceman and Vegas resident Deryk Engelland says distractions exist in every city
The bright lights, endless buffets and blackjack tables of Las Vegas get old pretty quick, according to Calgary Flames defenceman Deryk Engelland.
If anyone understands what the NHL might look like in the Nevada desert, it's Engelland, who has lived in the city with his family for the past 12 years.
Born in Edmonton, Engelland got his first taste of the city as a 21-year-old playing for the now-extinct Las Vegas Wranglers of the ECHL. He said at first he was intrigued by the excitement of the city.
"But you come here and [the strip] gets old really fast," said the 34-year-old. "You learn the city and places to go and places not to go. I think it's just like any other city."
NHL players will soon get a taste of Vegas life with the league's board of governors expected to approve an expansion team for the city Wednesday.
Engelland met his wife while she was studying in Vegas. They now have two young boys, who were both born in the city. To him, Vegas is a lot like a small town once you venture beyond the casinos, restaurants and attractions of the strip.
"It's a small town in a big city type of thing," said Engelland.
There's also the dry climate, outdoor lifestyle and proximity to the West Coast. Housing is also affordable in a market that was hit hard by the recession. The whole package was reason enough for the Engellands to put down roots.
"I don't see that changing anytime soon," said Engelland.
Ryan Mougenel, who was the head coach of the Wranglers for four seasons, explained why many former players have settled in Vegas.
"It is a special place," said Mougenel, now an assistant coach for the San Jose Sharks' AHL affiliate. "It was very special for me. I had an amazing experience there. We loved the community, we loved the people."
The Toronto native said he remembers a passionate, "well-educated" fanbase, mostly encountering East Coast transplants and Canadians during his time with the Wranglers.
Engelland said he already has a sense for the excitement news of an NHL team has brought. At a recent visit to his local gym, all anyone wanted to talk about was the new team. He's seen plenty of hockey fans, too, with Pittsburgh Penguins gear popping up prominently in recent weeks.
"Even if people aren't hockey fans, I think they're just excited to have a professional team that they can follow," said Engelland.
He added he doesn't expect the allure of Vegas to be troublesome for players because distractions exist in every city.
"Obviously, it's a little more accessible here, but I don't think it's any different than New York City or a place like Miami or something like that," he said. "I think it'll definitely wear off."
Keeping teams focused
Engelland said he and his family view trips to the strip almost like a chore. They go only for special dinners or visits with friends and family. For residents, it's mostly a place to avoid.
"The more you go here and the more you get used to the Vegas lifestyle, the less you do it," Senators captain Erik Karlsson said from the NHL Awards in Vegas. "Obviously, there's going to be things you can do outside of hockey that will be a lot of fun, but I think at the same time, during the season you're all business."
NHL coaches believe the nightlife question will have to be addressed when teams visit.
"I flew in here and I'm going: 'How would I handle this?"' said Barry Trotz, the head coach of the Washington Capitals and a nominee for the Jack Adams Trophy. "It'll be very hard to keep teams focused the first time through."
Mougenel said he was initially concerned about the effect of the nightlife on his players, but found it was hardly a problem. While he acknowledged that ECHL players aren't paid the millions of today's NHLers, he still doesn't think it will be an issue.
"I think the biggest thing is at the NHL level, guys understand the ramifications of not looking after yourself," Mougenel said.
The biggest impact could be in minor hockey where Nevada could blossom into a hotbed for young American talent.
"It's a unique spot," Mougenel said. "We really fell in love with Las Vegas and we miss it all the time."
With files from Joshua Clipperton