Saturday, November 16, 2018

By Bethany Drysdale

Eagle River, Alaska is home to Connor Hetzel. As a kid growing up he began skating on outdoor ponds in the cold Alaskan winters. Skating for hours on the naturally made ice, Connor found an early love of the game at age seven. He played his first hockey game on his 8th birthday, beginning a path that continues today as a top defenseman for UNLV. His parents, Karen and Paul, actively encouraged Connor to pursue his dreams playing the game he loved. Driving to tournaments, early skating practices and keeping two young athletes headed in all directions is what hockey parents do for their kids.

When it came to playing junior hockey Connor went 4300 miles away to play for the USPHL Atlanta Knights. Making the playoffs both seasons Connor was on the team, he recorded an assist in each post-season series. It was during this time he met UNLV coach Nick Robone who recruited him after watching Connor skate in a player Showcase. Coming to UNLV, Connor saw action in 30 games in his freshman year, scoring 4 goals and getting 4 assists. Making the move to ACHA D1 did not slow down Connor as he played in 27 games with 4 assists. Being a part of the Rebels as they march towards NCAA status it is the defensive skills of players like Connor that have made the program so successful. This season the Finance junior has played in 13 games with one assist and a +1 rating on the ice. Connor is part of the first line penalty kill which consistently shuts down the opposition.

Success on the ice usually comes from a solid work ethic, something Connor’s dad Paul instilled in him at an early age. The 6’0″ and 190 pound defenseman keeps his physical shape intact with time spent working out and eating healthy. When our 2-year old son Blake asked what his favorite food was Connor replied he likes peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and sushi. Always with a smile and in a light-hearted mood we asked him if the early morning practices were every difficult to attend. He said he is more of a morning person and is probably too happy for his teammates. The Rebels team is family away from family. They celebrate success and work harder when they need to be more productive. Away game road trips are something Connor looks forward to because it is an opportunity to see new places. However playing home games at the City National Arena in Las Vegas there is always a chance to feed off the energy of the home crowd.

This weekend, the UNLV Rebels are playing the University of Alabama at a tournament in Chicago. UNLV hopes to rebound after the two losses last weekend. Connor will most certainly be out there on the ice, having fun and showing kids that yes – hard work does pay off.