Sunday, March 22, 2015

Las Vegas – UNLV alum Chris Tate peered through his goalie facemask and saw trouble coming. At mid ice three red-jersey UNLV forwards broke through the pack and were heading his way on Saturday night at the SoBe Ice Arena.

Chris looked to his left, then to the right.

Not a defenseman in sight or on his radar.

He looked again and leading the attack run was #18 Mike Zenzola, the greatest goal scorer in the history of UNLV Rebels hockey.

The three forwards arrived, sprayed ice at the net, the puck was quickly shot and rocketed into a far corner of the net. The three forwards then turned as a unit and sped back down the ice.

It was a quick strike and score, the way Mike Zenzola of UNLV used to do it so many times when the big teams rolled into town.

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It was the annual UNLV Alumni Game at the SoBe Ice Arena on a warm Saturday night. Zenzola looked the same – tall, lean, ready to rock down the ice and unleash blasts of shots from a variety of distances.

Officially he is 6’2, 200.

He scored 138 career goals and the only other Rebel remotely close to that was Anthony Greener who played a different kind of game. Greener usually played much closer in the shark waters around enemy nets when big teams like Michigan, Texas, San Diego State and yes, even UCLA got into UNLV’s grill.

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Mike Zenzola said he couldn’t have scored all of the goals without his longtime linemate Sam Braniff. They played on the same AA midget team, the Inland Valley Coyotes in the Riverside area, then with the Fort Vancouver Pioneers in junior hockey, then together with UNLV. It was Rob Pallin, Mike said, who recruited he and Sam.

Biggest goals ever? Zenzola, like most great athletes, laughed and said he had just a few. Well he scored over a hundred of them, including six goals in one game against Cal State Fullerton. Zenzola said he had a big game against Colorado and he mentioned one or two more.

His best line? Zenzola, Braniff and Greener or with the explosive goal scorer Josh Jasek.

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Practically all of the top UNLV alum players were in the game. Tate, who was in the net in the very first UNLV game in 2005-06 season, wore a powder blue jersey. Years ago he said he never looked at the Pepsi scoreboard during the closest of games at the SoBe Ice Arena. “My only concern was keeping any eye on the puck and keeping it out of out net,” he said.

Greener, whose #96 jersey is framed and hanging on the south wall at the SoBe, was handed red jersey #3 to start the game.

“Never wore a #3 before,” he said. “But here we go.”

Moments later his hockey mom Sue, in the cold bleachers, told everyone “Anthony is now wearing number 20 red.”

Greener had a great game, chipping passes, setting up linemates. Ryan Krametbauer, whose #13 jersey is also framed and hanging on the wall at the SoBe, is an attorney now. He gave me his card, just in case, you never know when you need a good attorney he said. He plays in a men’s league on Sunday nights. A former Rebel, Danny Kaminski, is on the team.

Arturo Castro wanted to play but didn’t. He is still recovering from a serious back and neck injury in a game against Long Beach State. Will he play this fall? Doesn’t think he can do it. Too much at risk in the health area. He now works in UNLV Rebels hockey promotions. He is very popular and the players call him Arty.

Even UNLV defensemen like Doug Wenglare got into the goal scoring. He made it look easy, getting to the net, feinting and scoring.

UNLV enforcer Kyle Curry was prowling around on the ice. He had a great skate, just like his former teammates. Kyle’s temperature never red-lined, so that was good for all.

No one skated harder than an active Rebel, Trey Johnson. He went up and down the ice high speed.

Just the way he always does in the real Rebels games.

The game? It was a scorefest. Final score was 14-14. No goals were announced. Rock music blasted during the game, not just during timeouts.

We asked one of the goalies Katie Scheafer who was the most dangerous goal scorer out there.

She said didn’t track many of the jersey numbers who were at the net.

But she said #18 was pretty good.

That was Zenzola.

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When the game was over, it was time to take an official team photo at center ice.

The players lined up and someone said “where’s Gramps?” and he was over by the south boards.

Zenzola and Krametbauer went to go get him and helped the UNLV legend Frank ‘Gramps’ Perone walk onto the ice. He is part of what UNLV has accomplished, always around the bench area, lining up sticks and fidgeting during those intense late-game one goal leads.

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After the team picture, the players skated around, not really wanting to leave the ice.

These were the greatest of all of the UNLV players, the ones who played in the biggest of games.

Anthony Greener, who played on a UNLV top line for 4 1/2 seasons, was horsing around, laughing, making tricky passes.

His hockey mom Sue pressed her face against the rink glass, over by the locker room area.

“Oh, how I miss seeing him play,” she said quietly, smiling, but just a little bit.