A part of growing up in Canada is being a natural on the ice when it comes to playing hockey, and Zach Wickson proved that with his successful first season as a Rebel.
“Everyone pretty much plays hockey up there when you’re a kid,” Wickson said. “When you’re at the age of four- you’re pretty much stuck on skates and they don’t leave your feet. Growing up, it was me and my brother playing, and you know I just kind of fell in love with the game.”
Growing up, Wickson made sure to stay in shape, playing every sport imaginable including baseball, football, volleyball, and basketball.
Despite having his pick of sports to pursue, he chose to continue with hockey with this season marking his 18th year of playing.
Wickson joined the scarlet and gray last year in the middle of the pandemic when UNLV’s hockey season was canceled, giving him zero ice time with the team.
Due to the pandemic, the recruiting process of how he ended up here was a little different than normal. Rebel forward Nick Flanders helped with Wickson’s decision to come down to Las Vegas to play college hockey.
The two played a season of junior league together in Canada for Cochrane Crunch before Flanders played a season at UNLV without Wickson.
“We played juniors together and I knew he was a really good goalie,” Flanders said. “I knew that was something we needed. I was pretty much nagging him all year to come in a semester early during my freshman year- but then covid happened.”
“It kind of pushed everything back and he ended up coming in my sophomore year. It’s been nothing but great.”
Head coach Anthony Vigineri-Greener and assistant coach Nick Robone were stuck with a virtual recruiting process. The trio had multiple zoom calls, text messages, and watched old games Wickson played.
“Our players are our best recruiters…” Greener said. “It’s a different recruiting process than normal, but definitely one that worked out for us.”
Wickson entered the season living up to the standards of being a Skatin’ Rebel, earning himself the nickname of Brickson throughout the season with his numerous huge saves game after game.
With 20 games played and 20 starts this year, Wickson concluded the regular season with a 17-2-1 record to help him into the No. 1 ranked goalie spot in the American Collegiate Hockey Association (ACHA) league.
Wickson made his debut in the scarlet and gray on Oct. 1 against Illinois, making 25-of-26 saves to help the Rebels to a 4-1 victory.
“It was crazy. There was a lot of build up towards it,” Wickson said. “I was really excited for that first game. You know, during our pandemic season- we kind of did a few things here and there. Playing in a game is a lot different than scrimmaging against your own team, so it was really fun.”
“Stepping out onto the ice for the first time and hearing my name called in the starting lineup- it’s a surreal experience and it was a fun game to play.”
He recorded 543 saves from the season with 41 total goals against for an average of 2.03 per game.
Wickson concluded the regular season with a save percentage of 0.930 and a 0.910 save percentage for Nationals, going 2-1.
“Honestly, I wanted [my save percentage] to be a little higher,” Wickson said. “But you know- you take what you can get and you can’t be mad about that. It’s nice to have good numbers, but again in Nationals it sucked to come home without the trophy.”
Throughout the successful season, Wickson assisted the Rebels with earning the Chicago Classic Championship title and earning himself MVP of the tournament with 86 total saves.
In the process, they defeated the defending national champions and two top four teams at the time to put UNLV on everyone’s radar along with kicking off the incredible 16-game winning streak.
Liberty snapped that winning streak for the Rebels on Jan. 28 with no Wickson in net. For the second game of the series, Wickson returned to the net with 24-of-25 saves to aid UNLV in a 3-1 victory.
Wickson went 3-0 against Liberty for the year, marking the Flames as one of his favorite opponents from the season.
“I played them three times. I beat them three times,” Wickson said. “They’re a good team and I always thought they had a good goalie too. It was always fun going against another really good goalie and having a battle against him three times. It was fun for sure.”
Along with securing the top standing for goalie stats for the ACHA, Wickson was recognized in the Western Collegiate Hockey League (WCHL) and was named to the All-League First Team and the All-League Rookie Team.
“It’s always nice to get recognition for everything,” WIckson said. “I just got to keep the ego in check a little bit and not get too high there. I felt like sometimes I got a little bit in my own head of all that kind of stuff.”
“It’s nice to get the recognition I feel I deserve, but I still gotta stay level headed for sure.”
With a successful first season in the scarlet and gray, Wickson looks to build off of the momentum of this year heading into the future seasons with the Skatin’ Rebels as he hopes to continue every year.