LAS VEGAS (KTNV) — It’s been 20 months since the UNLV Skatin’ Rebels hit the ice in a regular-season game and this year they continue their quest to become a Division 1 NCAA team.
“I’ve never seen the drive with the same group, as much it is with this group, said UNLV's Head Coach Anthony Vignieri-Greener. “To lose a year of hockey, sports, school, it hurts my heart to see what they had to go through.”
The pandemic canceled the Reb’s 2020-21 season, but their coach sees that it didn’t crush his team’s spirit.
“We just gotta get our feet wet,” Vignieri-Greener said. “That first game against Illinois, October 1st, and go from there.”
The University of Illinois is one of the top teams in the American Collegiate Hockey Association. Coach says their season-opener opponent is well-coached and they’re physical and aggressive on the ice. However, playing against a top-tier team has its benefits. It’ll attract the attention the Rebs need as they shoot for a spot in the NCAA.
Right now the ACHA is made up of self-funded programs. Sponsors and donors financially back the teams in the conference. Inside City National Arena, where the Skatin’ Rebs practice and play, the Englestad Family Donor Wall pays tribute to the team’s supporters. Though in 2017 one heavily endowed donor came to town and changed the game.
“When the Knights came, we sorta had a name. We sorta had a brand here already, and I think that they piggy-backed off of us and now we piggy-back off of them,” said Vignieri-Greener.
The Vegas Golden Knights quickly embraced Las Vegas’ small, yet close-knit hockey community, which UNLV helped build with its well-established hockey fan base.
“We’re treated like gold here, and we’re very fortunate to let us play in their building,” the coach said.
City National Arena in Summerlin is VGK’s practice site. It’s a venue where UNLV can attract hundreds of fans. Years ago, the Rebs packed almost 1,000 spectators in the arena. UNLV has maintained its partnership with VGK, and as the hockey program continues to grow, they hope to play in an even bigger venue that will also be provided by the Golden Knights. Until then, the Skatin’ Rebs are looking to fill up City National Arena.
“When we score a goal, the place goes bananas,” said Vignieri-Greener. “It’s really exciting to see, and I wish I could’ve played in something like that when I was a player here.”
VGK’s generosity doesn’t stop with the Rebs. UNLV pays it forward. Not only do the Skantin’ Rebs contribute to youth hockey leagues, but their games are also much more affordable so that families can get bitten by the hockey bug, which will solidify the future of an ice sport in a sweltering, desert town.
The Skatin’ Rebs are selling season tickets and the team's first game is on Oct.1 at 8 p.m.