The Golden Knights held a moment of silence lasting 58 seconds – one for each victim – before Canadian defenseman Deryk Engelland, who had actually lived in Vegas for 14 years, gave a passionate speech. It also lasted exactly 58 seconds.
“Like all of you, I’m proud to call Las Vegas home,” he began as a spotlight picked him out on the ice, in front of a capacity 18,000-strong crowd.
“I met my wife here. Our kids were born here. I know how special this city is.
“To all the brave first responders that have worked tirelessly and courageously through this whole tragedy, we thank you.
“To the families and friends of the victims, we’ll do everything we can to help you and our city heal. We are Vegas Strong.”
Engelland said afterwards that he had probably never spoken to “more than 20 guys at once”. Regardless, it was the team talk that summed up a city’s emotions.
“It was amazing for a guy who’s generally pretty shy in his demeanour,” said Bubolz. “During the moment of silence, I could hear people breathing. That will always be stuck in my mind, how eerie that was.”
The Golden Knights then scored four goals in the first 10 minutes, the second a rare effort from Engelland.
“It was a magical moment,” said Bubolz.
“For those three hours, people stepped away from the mass murder that happened literally down the road and just enjoyed the hockey, even if they’d never been to a game before.”
The Golden Knights ran out 5-2 winners and won eight of their first nine games, restoring some of the excitement the franchise had been building before the tragedy.
Having been founded in Vegas rather than relocating, they had made Vegas Born their “DNA statement”, tapping into the pride felt by those who have been in town since before the population boom.
They also gave free jerseys to all 14,000 season-ticket members, which resulted in retail sales being “off the chart” as everyone else in the city saw the jerseys and wanted to be a part of it, especially as the team kept winning.
“Something really unique and special happened, a bond formed really quickly,” Bubolz says. “In a strange way, the tragedy brought us together. In despair came a connection, and people fell in love with these players.”
At the Golden Knights’ final home game of the regular season, they raised a banner featuring Vegas Strong, 58 stars and the victims’ names. They also retired the number 58 jersey.
The team had not only secured an unlikely appearance in the play-offs but went on to make a remarkable run to the Stanley Cup finals, losing 4-1 to Washington in the best-of-seven series.
At the end of that first season, Engelland won NHL’s leadership award, and not just for his speech. He and his wife Melissa invited people affected by the shooting to home games throughout the season, meeting and thanking each guest.
He said: “No matter what I do in my career, [that speech] is probably going to be the biggest moment of my hockey career.”