Engelland fills hole on Penguins' defense
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Things could have gone differently the past week for defenseman Deryk Engelland. A lot differently.
What he will remember most, no doubt, will be getting word Thursday night that he was being promoted from Wilkes-Barre/Scranton to the Penguins and then making his NHL debut Monday in a game at Boston.
"It's been a long road, but it's definitely worth the wait. It's a dream come true to make it to this level. You've been waiting to do it since you were a little kid," said Engelland, who, at 27, is no kid but suddenly finds himself in a critical role going into a home game against New Jersey because of a rash of injuries to Penguins defensemen.
Engelland is thankful he will not remember these days more for something that happened near his hometown of Chetwynd, British Columbia.
He found out Sunday that his father, Mark, and one of his brothers-in-law, Conan Fowler, narrowly escaped a tragedy while on a weekend hunting trip.
• Game: Penguins vs. New Jersey Devils, 7:38 p.m. today, Mellon Arena.
• TV, radio: FSN Pittsburgh, WXDX-FM (105.9).
• Probable goaltenders: Marc-Andre Fleury for Penguins. Martin Brodeur for Devils.
• Penguins: Have lost three games in a row and are 1-4 in past 5 games. ... Are 0for 23 on power play in past six games. ... C Sidney Crosby has gone career-long five games with no points.
• Devils: Are 8-0 on road. ... Beat Penguins, 4-1, Oct. 24. ... D Andy Greene has a four-game points streak (1 goal, 4 assists) after notching two assists in 3-1 win last night against Anaheim.
• Hidden stat: New Jersey had NHL's best team goals-against average, 2.20, before last night..
The two went out on a short foray, then hit the sack in Fowler's older trailer, which they had hauled with Mark Engelland's truck.
"The conservation officer woke them up at 11 at night to check for a [hunting] tag, and they were pretty sick, so they went to the hospital," Deryk Engelland said.
The two had carbon-monoxide poisoning, which can be deadly.
"It was from the propane furnace," Deryk Engelland said. "They don't remember making their beds up or anything."
They were treated and released.
The close call gave way to excitement across the Rockies foothill town of about 3,100. Deryk was going to be in a game on Canadian network TSN playing in the NHL for the first time. Family and friends gathered at the Engelland home to watch.
While the outcome wasn't what the clan hoped for -- the Penguins lost to the Boston Bruins, 3-0 -- Engelland held his own.
He led the game with five hits and seemed steady despite losing his defensive partner, Brooks Orpik, who was hit into the boards by Boston's Mark Stuart in the first period. With just five defensemen, Penguins coach Dan Bylsma had no choice but to play Engelland a good deal, 19:20.
"The good thing about Deryk is, he knows his game really well," Bylsma said. "He's a simple defenseman with the puck. Makes the first pass. Makes the good, hard plays.
"He's a tough customer, tough to play against in the defensive zone, but also an intimidating guy with the brand of hockey he can play."
Engelland, 6 feet 2 and 202 pounds, can dish out punishing hits and will drop the gloves. He is not an offensive defenseman pushing for his first goal.
"I'm not worried about that, that's for sure," Engelland said of scoring.
Engelland grew up watching and sometimes playing with his father in what he calls "beer leagues" and figures if it hadn't been for hockey he might still be in the Chetwynd area toiling in one of the local industries -- logging, the paper mill, the WAC Bennett Dam or the sulfur mill, where his father is a millwright and welder and got to watch his son play for the Penguins before a scheduled business trip to Qatar.
Engelland wanted something else, though, and said he likely would have looked for a way out of the small town.
Hockey was his ticket, but it took a while.
Engelland was selected by New Jersey in the sixth round of the 2000 draft. The year before that and the nine years since were paved with progress that sometimes came slowly.
He spent four seasons playing junior hockey for Moose Jaw, then turned pro and worked his way up through the ECHL and American Hockey League.
"I definitely wasn't as good in juniors as I could have been," Engelland said. "It was a lot of work making it to the East Coast, up to the AHL and now here."
Engelland discovered the resources in his earlier hockey days were not ideal.
"Probably the biggest thing is the way guys train up here," he said. "Coming from juniors, coming from a small town, I don't have quite the stuff that a lot of other guys did. No trainers or anything like that. So I didn't probably train as hard as I should have."
He had been playing for Hershey, a top AHL rival of Wilkes-Barre, when the Penguins signed him to a free-agent contract in 2007. By the time he got to Penguins training camp in September, he had impressed club officials.
"It came right down to the wire for him being our seventh defenseman," Bylsma said.
For now, because of injuries to Sergei Gonchar (wrist), Kris Letang (shoulder) and possibly Orpik, it looks as if Engelland will be the Penguins' sixth or even fifth defenseman for a while.
NOTES -- Although there was no word from the Penguins about the nature or extent of the injury to Orpik, whose left side slammed into the boards on the hit by Stuart, it appears he will not play tonight. Ben Lovejoy, who played two games with the Penguins last season, was a scratch for Wilkes-Barre last night and, according to the Citizens Voice newspaper, has been recalled by the Penguins.
First Published November 12, 2009 12:00 am