Entering as the No. 4 seed, UNLV Hockey is set to face off against the No. 13 seed Pittsburgh for its first game of the Nationals Tournament on March 11 at 10:15 a.m. CST.
“We can’t take anyone lightly,” assistant coach Nick Robone said. “It’s going to be important that we set the tone early and let the team know why we are ranked No.4 in the country and I think you don’t want a team like those guys hanging around.”
The Skatin’ Rebels are coming off the program’s best season yet, with a 16-game winning streak mid-season along with being the reigning Chicago Classic Champions.
UNLV will kick off the tournament with a five-game win streak under their belts as it looks to continue that streak.
“It’s huge, I haven’t been on such a winning team in a while,” forward Michael Boutoussov said. “I’m excited for the playoffs because I personally haven’t played in any playoff game in the past almost five years… I know all the guys are excited. Once we get there it’s gonna kick in, gonna be a different gear and we’re ready to go.”
The Rebels earned a first round bye as one of the top four teams, giving them an extra day of rest before the competition begins.
For the second round of the tournament, the Rebels (26-4) will be facing off with the Pittsburgh Panthers (25-4). The game will be the first meeting between the two teams all season.
The Rebels continue to have a strong offense during their games with 124 total goals this season, averaging four goals per game.
The Panthers, however, have averaged 5.6 goals during their 29 games for a total of 165 goals.
“Our forecheck is something we want to focus on more,” Robone said. “Be really good on the forecheck- we think that’s a big part of our identity. We want to be ready to face whatever adversity comes our way.”
“We talk about committing to the unknown. You don’t know what’s going to happen but either way you’re going to roll with the punches. We’re going to do that moving forward together.”
On the defense side, the two teams appear to be evenly matched on the stats sheet. UNLV has allowed 77 goals while Pittsburgh has allowed 70 for the season, both averaging out to 2.4 goals allowed per game.
“I’m looking to just bring a strong defensive game,” senior defenseman Sean Plonski said. “Strong in the D-zone, fast puck moving defenseman who’ll win two on one battles and just basically do anything I can to help the team win.”
The top scorer for the Rebels is Max Johnson, tallying in 20 goals and 13 assists for a total of 33 points. Behind Johnson is Cole Wyatt with six goals and 25 assists for 31 points.
Ben Leslie is the top scorer for the Panthers, with 27 goals and 23 assists for a total of 50 points. Following Leslie, Pittsburgh’s Oldrich Virag has 24 goals and 18 assists for 42 points.
This year of Nationals will be a huge testament for the Rebels to play with the top competition in the ACHA and make a deep run in the national tournament. It’s an especially important part of the season for those on the team who joined later than the rest.
Jaedin Ness joined the team late for UNLV, playing his first game back in mid January bringing two goals and a single assist in the six games he’s hit on the ice for.
“It’s honestly amazing. I’m very thankful that I got on the team halfway through the season,” Ness said. “Obviously, we’re just building off and now I’m just really excited to get to Nationals… I think we have a lot of guys that can put the puck away in the net and do good things for us.”
The ACHA Nationals Tournament can only be streamed through HockeyTV; where the Skatin’ Rebels will take on the Panthers on Friday, March 11 at 10:15 a.m. CST.