Veteran leadership, young talent propel Rebels into playoffs
The Rebels are 11-3-6 and are in a three-way tie for first place with UC Santa Barbara and Cal Poly San Luis Obispo in the Western Collegiate Roller Hockey League.
Nick Robone, a senior defenseman on the team, has been part of UNLV roller hockey since its inception in the 2007-2008 season and credits the majority of the team’s success to their practicing.
“We work hard at practice week in and week out,” Robone said. “It’s important that we come to practice prepared to make each other better. That’s been a major focus for us this year and it’s really seemed to pay off.”
Robone ranks second on the team in goals with 26, six goals behind team leader Andrew Tamura. His 53 points ranks fourth in the region but he says that his teammates have a lot to do with it.
“I guess I just find myself in the right spot at the right time,” Tamura said. “I’m lucky enough to have a good team behind me to help me out. Seeing the growth of the individual players and the creation of us becoming an actual team encourages me to push forward and grow alongside them.”
The Rebels have outscored their opponents 110-79 this season, and in two games against Arizona last month, the Rebels outscored the Wildcats 22-5.
Derek Kwan, a forward on the team, is one of the newer members on the team and to Las Vegas. Kwan began practicing with the team towards the end of their season last year, shortly after moving from Vancouver, British Columbia. Kwan was surprised at the team’s performance when he first saw them play.
“I’m there to learn, honestly. I haven’t played competitive roller hockey,” Kwan said. “In Canada, it’s all ice and it’s a totally different system.”
Kwan said that the team chemistry remains strong and has a lot to do with how close they are.
“The whole team has really come together,” Kwan said. “At the start of the season we got a couple of new guys. I was one of the new guys too. It takes a little bit to gel but definitely now towards the end of the season we’ve become a tight-knit group.”
The team is not funded by any organization and is forced to pay for their expenses out of pocket.
“We’ve got league fees, road trips, the hotel and gas all comes out of our pocket,” Kwan said. “But we do our best to fundraise. We sell Wranglers tickets and we had a garage sale earlier in the year. But hockey is expensive.”
Robone compared the roller hockey team to the UNLV men’s basketball team.
“We have a really fast team and play a lot like the Runnin’ Rebel basketball team in terms of non-stop pressure and capitalizing on others mistakes or turnovers,” he said. “That has led to scoring on nearly 50 percent of our power play opportunities as well.”
“We like to push the pace and we’re known for our speed,” Kwan said. “That’s the kind of game we like to play. With the type of players we’ve got and the type of skills they have it definitely plays to our advantage.”
Rebels goaltender Travis Barendt leads the league with 430 saves and a save percentage of .845.
“We all work hard as a team,” Barendt said. “A lot of us grew up playing with each other and the ones that didn’t caught on quickly. I give it all I got every game to help us win and then everyone else does their part.”
Kwan compared Barendt to New York Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist.
“He has a very solid butterfly,” he said. “He’ll cover up the bottom half of the net, but sometimes he’ll get that crazy desperation save you’ll see out of nowhere.”
Both Kwan’s and Robone’s senior leadership has been an influence towards the entire team and the volunteering of coach Curt Weiman has solidified the team into a solid unit.
“Freshman forward Eddie Davis, along with veterans [Derek] Kwan, Emmanuel Banez and Axle Anderton have had tremendous success this season in shutting down opposing teams top players and setting up our offensive style,” Robone said. “And our defensemen Anthony Robone, Tyler Reese and Jared Joerger look to continue to provide the Rebels with a much needed spark in hopes of making a deep run in the regional championships.”
The Rebels begin the playoffs on March 3 in Corona, Calif. with hopes of making it to nationals in Salt Lake City.
“For me, winning a national championship would cap off a great career here at UNLV,” Robone said. “I can honestly say I wouldn’t trade anything for the great times I’ve had on and off the rink over the past few years.”
Contact Steven Slivka at [email protected]