The UNLV Skatin’ Rebels geared up for its final showdown against the Arizona Sun Devils on Feb. 18. The match held at Oceanside Ice Arena was one for the books, as the Sun Devils looked to knock the Rebels down in the rankings. However, the Rebels were not going to let that happen. The Sun Devils were looking to get even with the Rebels, as they led them in the season with a 2-1 record. Running off of a 5-4 overtime win, confidence was high among the Sun Devils. However, the Rebels closed out the series with a 3-1 record against ASU.
The Rebels defeat the Sun Devils in a 5-0 shutout. Among those goal-scorers was Caleb Strong, the Minnesota native who earned his third goal of the season.
Growing up in Minnesota, Strong began his career when he was young.
“I was probably three years old when my dad put me in it,” Strong said. “Ever since I do remember, I’ve loved it, so I never really wanted to quit.”
Since then, Strong has had tremendous success in his career with a total of 299 points. In the 2021-2022 season, Strong had 90 points with the Las Vegas Thunderbirds.
The Thunderbirds are a junior team that plays at City National Arena, along with the Skatin’ Rebels. They are a part of the United States Premier Hockey League (USPHL), the feeder league for the ACHA and NCAA Division III. Strong played one season with the team before joining the UNLV Skatin’ Rebels in the 2022 off-season.
The Thunderbirds had a season record of 29-14-1 in the 2021-2022 season. Strong had an incredible season with the team, both on and off the ice. Strong had an impressive season with the team, with 38 goals and 52 assists in 42 games. Earning over an assist per game and a little under a goal per game, he became a star for the Thunderbirds.
“[The best parts were] probably all the guys and all the fun memories we had off the ice,” Strong said.
Strong made a transition from the USPHL to the ACHA. Managing 15 points in 20 games, he helped make this historic season. Despite playing only 20 games, he has proven himself to be a key player. He scored 3 goals and assisted 12 goals this season, earning himself a spot in the playoff lineup. In game one, he pushed the Rebels into overtime against Grand Valley University with two goals, which led to Robert McCollum’s overtime winner.
“Skill-wise and just personality, they’re great guys to be around and it’s a lot of fun,” Strong said.
Strong played a key role this season, especially during the games against the NCAA teams. He gained the opportunity to play in all four games, and he hopes the push towards joining the NCAA continues during next season.
“It was really good to play NCAA games, and hopefully we can play some more next year as well.”
For athletes, being a part of a historic season is a dream, and it is no different for Strong. Opening the season at a professional arena is something most players dream of.
Strong was a part of a Skatin’ Rebels team that played two games at the Dollar Loan Center. The Dollar Loan Center is the home of the G League Ignite and the Henderson Silver Knights, the AHL that is a direct affiliate of the Las Vegas Golden Knights.
The two games that the Rebels played at the Dollar Loan Center were against University of Utah and the University of Alaska Anchorage. The Rebels record at the Dollar Loan Center was 1-1 with a 3-2 victory against Utah and a 3-1 defeat to Alaska Anchorage.
“It’s a good experience, the Dollar Loan Center is obviously just a fantastic site with great facilities,” Strong said.
Strong has proven he is a key player this season. When asked if he plans on returning for the 2023-24 season, he said one simple answer.