CALGARY, AB -- Vegas, baby.
And the shine of the NHL’s 31st franchise rivals that of the bright lights that will host hockey’s newest team.
Ask Calgary Flames coach Glen Gulutzan.
He’s still fielding calls.
“I still have a lot of friends texting me in Las Vegas,” Calgary Flames coach Glen Gulutzan said. “I’m really happy for them. There’s a real good base of hockey fans there … a lot of transplants from the East that have come in and started making their homes in Vegas.”
“There’s enough base there. Everyone talks about, ‘There’s so much going on.’ They’re right. There’s so much going on in Las Vegas. But many of the local people have seen it or done it.”
Commissioner Gary Bettman announced in June that the League granted an expansion franchise to Las Vegas that will start playing as its 31st team in the 2017-18 season.
The NHL becomes the first of the four major North American professional sports leagues to put a team in Las Vegas. It will be the NHL's first expansion team since the Minnesota Wild and Columbus Blue Jackets came into the League in 2000.
Gulutzan knows the city well.
He coached the East Coast Hockey League’s Las Vegas Wranglers from 2003-2009.
Flames defenceman Deryk Engelland knows, too. He played under Gulutzan there from 2003-2005.
Count him as a fan of the move.
“I was excited when I heard,” Engelland said. “It’s home for me and my family now. Just to have a professional sports team here, and it be hockey, is great for even after I’m doing playing. I can take my boys to games and all those kinds of things. It’s fun to know I’ll have a team in our hometown to cheer for and root on.”
If there’s a resident expert to be had on Las Vegas, it’s Engelland.
He’s made it his off-season home for the past dozen years, and just built a new house in the city.
Engelland knows the NHL’s latest expansion isn’t without its challenges, but the reputation of the city shouldn’t be one of them.
“I think there might be a few rookie dinners here …” he started.
“It wears off,” Engelland added. “We’ve lived here 12 years. It’s almost a hassle to go down there now. Everyone that’s down there are tourists. When you go down there, you know where you’re going but there’s so many people. As a family we stay off the strip. You find your restaurants and things like that off the strip that are good spots to go to for dinner and what-not. I think it ends up being more of a hassle to go down there and deal with everything down there than it’s worth.”
Gulutzan, like Engelland, knows that the novelty wears off quickly.
“When I lived there, we didn’t indulge after the first six months on life on the strip or anything like that,” Gulutzan said. “It becomes a normal city for the two million people that are living there. They work there. They live there. They raise their kids there. They play baseball there. Now they’re going to play hockey there.
“I think their biggest challenge is to make sure they culture that.”
Engelland senses that, too. His solution is simple.
Cultivate a sense of community.
“You have to get out into the community and doing a lot of community work,” he said. “You have to build a fan-base … more than just the people that are going to the games. Those are going to be the fans that are already fans. You’ve got to grow and get the whole city involved. If it’s charity work or building youth hockey … anything like that … get out there and help people that much not know much about hockey or can’t afford the gear. I think if you can get out there and do a lot of stuff in the community it will grow it even more.”
If the Las Vegas franchise could do that, it’ll be a big win.
They’re on their way to a bright future.
“I work out at a small gym and there’s numerous people that have already put their deposits down for season tickets,” Engelland said. “It’s the big talk around the town.”