The tightly packed crowd at City National Arena was filled with screaming fans and parents cheering on their stars dressed in white sweaters with red lettering.
After putting on all his hockey gear, Jaedin Ness took in one final breath as he pulled on his UNLV jersey in the locker room. It was official: Ness was a Skatin’ Rebel.
He remembers the butterflies he felt outside the UNLV locker room watching the lights dim for the pre-game video presented on the big screen. From that moment forward, Ness knew this was the team he would be at for the next couple of years.
“It was my first game back after not skating for a year… It felt great to get back on the ice and actually start competing,” Ness said.
The Minnesota native spent his high school years playing three seasons of varsity for Holy Family Catholic.
From there he spent two years of juniors with the Fort Frances Lakers in the Superior International Junior Hockey League (SIJHL). In those two years, Ness saw 97 games of action tallying 52 goals and 28 assists (80 points).
Ness was named Team MVP and nominated for most offensive forward by the SIJHL.
Receiving 12 scholarships for NCAA schools, Ness was a top recruit for the College of St. Scholastica Saints alongside Bradley Golant. As a freshman (2019-20), he played in 18 games in a key offensive supportive role.
In search of a new opportunity, Ness began to explore the option of transferring schools. With UNLV on his radar from Golant making the jump first, the recruiting process began.
“[Golant] told me about the UNLV program. He basically told me all the great things that are down here,” Ness said. “Obviously, I was looking at other schools as well, but [Golant] emphasized the locker room atmosphere here.”
The coaches made the first move, reaching out to Ness and looking over his film. It didn’t take much convincing for him to work out the details and fully commit to the Skatin’ Rebels.
A wrench into the equation
UNLV hockey threw a wrench into its season, adding a new member to the roster in the midst of its 16-game winning streak. In a situation like this, it can either go good or bad.
“I was coming into a team on such a big win streak… I knew I had to be myself and be supportive,” Ness said. “I wanted to let them know I was there to do the same thing they’ve been doing all year.”
Luckily for Ness and for the Rebels, he fit perfectly into the tight-knit dynamic of the roster. The guys welcomed him with open arms and appreciated the extra man in the locker room.
He played eight games of the regular season for UNLV, scoring his first goal in the scarlet and gray during the Jan. 21, 2022 game against Arizona. He went on to tally the game-winning goal in the matchup between the ACHA D2 Oregon Ducks on March 5.
In the National Tournament, Ness appeared in all three games for the Rebels scoring the first goal in the quarterfinals against Pittsburgh.
“That was something special for me. I’ve been on teams where we’ve made it to Nationals,” Ness said. “It was special to be with all those guys in the locker room and see the reactions. It was special for every single one of those guys.”
The hardest-working player
Heading into this season with the Rebels, their roster was one of the deepest and most talented in program history, which heightened the competition every practice to make the lineup.
During the first half of the season, Ness appeared in three games for UNLV. On the starting lineup, he scored a goal and an assist in a 16-0 victory over San Diego State on Dec. 9.
Over the winter break, Ness pressed the reset button, determined to come out for the second half of the season battling for his spot on the lineup. Back in Minnesota, he played pond hockey to let loose and work on some of his skills while having fun.
Since he was a little kid, Ness has lived by the motto, “the hardest-working player in practice is going to be the hardest-working player in games.” That mindset helped Ness transition into the second half of the season as his role increased.
Returning to practices in January, he continued to work hard during the 3v3 tournament between the team to show his worth of more ice time.
In the first series back from break, against Arizona, Ness scored the game-winning goal in the second game. After that series, he started in nine of the Rebels’ next 13 games.
In that time, he tallied five goals — two game-winning goals and one short-handed — and four assists.
This season, Ness has learned to take his time with the puck while holding possession more to not rush any plays on the ice.
“Recently, I’ve had a bit more confidence with the puck. I have more time to work with the guys on my line and be at the right place at the right time,” Ness said.
On the ice, Ness plays with roommates Golant and Jayson DiMizio. The entire line dominates during its shift with a combined 64 points.
“The team camaraderie in the locker room is phenomenal. I think both the beauty and success of the team is how close all of the guys are,” Ness’ mother, Jeanene, said. “There are no cliques, all the guys do everything together. It’s a really unique locker room and bond that they all have. It’s fun to watch that bond that they’ve built come together on the ice as a parent.”
With the conclusion of the regular season and the Rebels finishing 24-3-1, UNLV prepares to enter the National Tournament as the No. 4 seed.
The Rebels travel to Boston for their first matchup of the National Tournament on March 17 to begin the journey of bringing home a National Championship for the Las Vegas fans who have supported Ness and his teammates along the way.
Until then, City National Arena echoes with the sounds of a UNLV puck sliding across the ice from stick to stick. The echoes fill the arena as Ness has improved in his increased role throughout the season, with a national championship in sight.