Wranglers assistant regularly touches lives on, off ice

A life not lived for others is not a life.

That quote by Mother Teresa was a favorite of former UCLA basketball coach John Wooden and encapsulates the philosophy of Wranglers volunteer assistant Rob Pallin.

A former local youth and UNLV club hockey coach who manages the Fiesta Rancho Ice Arena, Pallin, 46, has influenced countless people on and off the ice in Las Vegas.

In addition to helping develop the likes of forward Jason Zucker, who made his NHL debut last year with the Minnesota Wild, and Wranglers All-Star center Chris Francis, the selfless Pallin regularly helps the homeless here and has had a positive impact on the life of at least one local teenager with autistic tendencies.

“I believe, from the way I was brought up, that if you’re not on this earth to help people out, then what’s your purpose in life?” said Pallin, a Chisholm, Minn., native “I’ve been very blessed in my life, and I think you always have to give back.”

When a position opened at the Fiesta Rancho last year for an ice attendant to rent out skates, Pallin thought it would be beneficial for Jonathan Gomez, a 19-year-old Palo Verde High School senior with autistic tendencies whose younger brother plays for the Junior Wranglers.

“J.R. is a kid who has always been around the rink. I thought (the job) would do leaps and bounds for him,” said Pallin, who calls Gomez “The Director.” “His mother said his whole life has changed.”

Rosie Gomez said her son – who accompanied Pallin to a recent Wranglers game – loves being at the rink.

“When he’s out of the rink, he looks unhappy. He doesn’t understand everything that’s going on around him,” she said. “Once he’s inside the rink, he smiles, he laughs, he’s happy, he interacts with people, and I attribute all that to Rob.

“He is a very gracious and positive person. He goes to great lengths to make people feel comfortable. It’s not every day that you can find a person who will make people feel special and bring out the best in people.”

Pallin has been trying to make members of the city’s homeless community feel special for the past seven years.

As part of the Saint Benedict Homeless Ministry – which was started in 2000 by Father John B. McShane – Pallin and more than 20 other volunteers gather outside on G Street, near the corner of Washington Avenue, every Monday at 7:30 p.m. to hand out home-cooked meals, clothing and other essentials to hundreds of homeless people.

“What we do is try to give these guys some kind of bright light in their day,” Pallin said. “This is something I look forward to every week. It’s very important to me.

“There’s a lot of good people down there in unfortunate circumstances.”

Pallin, who rarely misses a Monday, vividly recalls the first time he attended the outdoor feed.

“I’ll never forget sitting in my car ready to go home and being very emotional,” he said. “I had tears in my eyes because you realize the blessings you have in your life.

“Until you go down there and see 300 people lining up for a meal … it’s crazy.”

Pallin also has opened his home to the homeless, letting people shower and wash their clothes.

“He let me stay at his house,” Jimmy Laird, a friendly 57-year-old homeless man, said of Pallin as he waited in line for food Monday in temperatures in the 20s. “Rob is a good Christian man. He helps the homeless people out here a lot.”

An unemployed temporary worker who sleeps outside on a piece of cardboard, Laird said he’s been attending the Monday feed for more than four years.

“This is a real blessing,” he said. “They give you brand new underwear and socks and good food.”

Pallin handed out blankets and warm clothing to people at the end of the line Monday and also delivered two 55-cup vats of hot chocolate, which Wranglers tough guy Adam Huxley doled out.

“Here’s a guy who’s had 350 career fights, but he’s probably the most gentle guy off the ice,” said Pallin, who has brought a plethora of players from his youth teams and UNLV to G Street.

Like Pallin, Huxley was overcome with emotion the first time he took part in the event.

“The first day I came out I saw a 7- or 8-year-old kid here, my daughter’s age. It puts a tear in your eye,” Huxley said. “I’m doing what I can to help, but I’m nothing like Rob. The guy’s a patron saint. They all love him and know him here.

“You can’t find a better guy than him. He’ll do anything for anyone. He takes care of so many people in different ways. Even at the Fiesta. Anyone who goes in that rink, he gives them a chance to be a hockey player.”

Francis, a local product who will represent the Wranglers at this year’s ECHL All-Star Game, played youth hockey for Pallin, a close family friend.

“Rob’s probably one of the best guys I’ve ever met. He cares about everyone way more than himself. He takes care of people when they’re in need,” Francis said. “He’s always been there for me and my family. He taught me a lot when I was younger and helped me grow as a person and a player.”

The youngest of nine children, Pallin grew up in a small, blue-collar town and played college hockey at Minnesota-Duluth and Western Michigan before bouncing around minor pro leagues in Europe for a decade.

He moved to Las Vegas in 1999 to play for the city’s defunct Coyotes roller hockey team and stayed to manage the Santa Fe Ice Arena before moving on to the Fiesta.

“I have what I consider the best job in Las Vegas. I’ve met so many great people,” Pallin said. “I have the same enjoyment out of seeing a 6-year-old kid come off the ice with a smile as I do coaching a 23-year-old Chris Francis.”

While Pallin hasn’t been paid in three years as an assistant for Las Vegas, Wranglers coach Ryan Mougenel said his contribution to the team has been priceless.

“I couldn’t put a price tag on it. He’s a very valuable part of it,” he said. “I always say I’m a good guy, but Rob’s a great guy. Look at the kids he’s helped through youth hockey. It’s a huge commitment and a thankless job at that level.

“He’s very involved in all of their lives and has had a big influence on them being better players and better people.”

Pallin has had offers to coach in Europe and elsewhere but is content to continue living his life for others in Las Vegas.

“If I can influence one kid, it’s awesome,” he said. “The accomplishments, at the end of the day, are not just about wins and losses. It’s touching people’s lives in a positive manner.”

Contact reporter Todd Dewey at tdewey@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0354.

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