By: Matt Atencio
578 days have passed since the last time the UNLV Skatin Rebels played a meaningful hockey game against an opponent that was not a scrimmage.
Oct. 1 will finally see that streak come to an end, when the team faces off against the University of Illinois Fighting Illini in their first home series of the year.
“Gearing up for some real games here, it is kind of exciting,” Rebels captain Jared Erickson said. “We are definitely excited to be gearing up for some real games. We haven’t played a game [at City National Arena] in two years.”
The Skatin’ Rebels have been preparing for this moment since Sept. 1 when they opened minicamp with Columbus Blue Jackets assistant coach Kenny McCudden. McCudden praised the team following the last day of camp, saying how much the team had grown in such a small window of time.
Since then, the practices have gotten more and more competitive. Each day the players have upped their level of intensity.
“We have high expectations and high standards,” Rebels head coach Anthony Vignieri-Greener said. “That was clear from day one. Every day it gets better, and I expect that to go through the end of the year.”
The Rebels enter this first game at 10th, their highest ranking in the American Collegiate Hockey Association in program history. This comes just a few days after the team was ranked number one in the Western Collegiate Hockey League preseason coach’s poll.
“It means a lot,” Vignieri-Greener said. “We aren’t going to focus on it though. We are just worried about us. “
About the Illinois Fighting Illini
The last time the Skatin Rebels faced off against the Illinois Fighting Illini was on Oct. 26, 2019. Almost two full years later, the teams will face off again. While UNLV is playing their first game of the season, the Fighting Illini will be playing their fifth game on the season. They have dropped all four games prior to this matchup and will be looking for their first win on the season.
“We haven’t played them for a year and a half,” Erickson said. “We don’t really know what to expect from them. They don’t really know what to expect from us. It will be a challenge on both sides.”
Keys for the Skatin Rebels
With nearly a two-year layoff, the Rebels will have some major challenge they will need to overcome. Chief of those will be overcoming pregame jitters and rust. Since the Fighting Illini have played already, it will be important for the Rebels to shake of the rust early.
The team will also be relying heavily on their veteran presence. Guys like Erickson, as well as Paxton Malone, Jayson Dimizio, Brendan Manning, and Hunter Muzzillo will be relied heavily upon for their leadership and experience. Not just in this game, but early in the season as well.
“I think it is all about controlling emotions,” Vignieri-Greener said. “If we get too high or too low too soon, we will be in trouble. That is when the leadership and upper classmen step in and set the tone [for the young guys].”
The Skatin Rebels and Fighting Illini drop the puck this Friday, Oct. 1 and Oct. 2 at 8:00 P.M. Friday night’s game will have a pregame tailgate out front of City National Arena, as well as free t-shirts for the first 200 people in the door. Saturday night’s game will have a raffle for game worn warmup jerseys. Single game tickets can be purchased at rebelhockey.com/tix.