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UNLV hockey club excited about new home and new league

The familiar UNLV arch logo was being mounted on the wall adjacent to the team’s locker room at City National Arena Monday in what was yet another sign of progress for the school’s ice hockey club.

The Rebels have a new home after bouncing back and forth between the Las Vegas Ice Center and the SoBe Ice Arena for the last decade. They also have 20 new faces from last year’s team, which went to the American Collegiate Hockey Association nationals for the first time.

Those players will be part of a team making the jump from Division 2 to the ACHA’s Division 1 as the 2017-18 season begins Friday at Arizona State. The home opener at City National Arena will be Sept. 22 against Colorado.

“This is what we envisioned when we took over a couple of years ago,” said Zee Khan, the team’s general manager. “The move to D-1 was top priority. We hoped to be absorbed by the NHL and the Golden Knights have been terrific to us. We love our new home. We have our own locker room. It’s allowed us to grow a little quicker than we expected.”

On the ice, the goal was to get an even higher quality player. Despite the fact the program went to the nationals, only 10 from that team return, including leading scorer Cody Williams. But third-year head coach Anthony Vignieri Greener said if the program is to continue moving forward and ultimately gain NCAA varsity status, it had to upgrade its talent level.

“It’s a different game at D-1,” he said. “We had to get faster and quicker. We’re going up against some teams that can beat NCAA Division III teams. That’s how good the quality of competition is.”

Vignieri Greener has seen the growth of the program since he himself played 12 years ago when UNLV began its hockey club. He didn’t dare dream when he played that all of this was possible. But as he lives it and is part of the process, he has tremendous pride in the undertaking and what the future holds.

“It’s great to see the growth over the years,” he said. “To be where we are today from where we started, it’s still hard to believe. But we know we’re not there yet. We have a challenging schedule and expectations have gotten higher.”

Khan said the recruitment of a lot of players in the British Columbia and Alberta Junior leagues as part of the 20-member class raises the team’s overall talent level considerably.

“These guys can really skate and they can compete,” Khan said. “They know how to play. It will be the fastest and most talented team UNLV has ever put on the ice.”

UNLV was 31-9 last year and has a 55-17-2 record over the last two seasons.

“We’ve created a culture of success,” Khan said. “Our program is relevant on campus. We’re still working on the varsity move and that’s probably two or three years away. But we have to make an impact as an ACHA D-1 program first.”

Contact Steve Carp at scarp@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2913. Follow @stevecarprj on Twitter.

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