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UNLV to make jump to Division I for club hockey

UNLV’s hockey club is moving up to Division I. But it’s not the Division I move it is ultimately seeking.

The Rebels, who are 15-3 and ranked No. 2 in the West of the American Collegiate Hockey Association’s Division II, are remaining a club program for now. But they will compete in the ACHA’s Division I beginning in 2017-18 after spending their first 11 years as a Division II program.

Along with UNLV, New York University and Calvin College of Grand Rapids, Michigan, will move up from D-II, growing the number of D-I ACHA teams to 62.

“The goal is still to ultimately go (NCAA) varsity,” UNLV club general manager Zee Khan said. “But there’s a pathway to this, and we’re following the same path Arizona State and Penn State took. They both went to club D-I first before the move to varsity.”

Khan said the effort to raise $15 million to transition to varsity status continues. UNLV athletic director Tina Kunzer-Murphy said Saturday she has concerns about the proposed women’s lacrosse team’s funding goal being met, and any move to Division I varsity for the hockey team must come in conjunction with women’s lacrosse to satisfy Title IX regulations.

“We know we won’t be able to do one without the other,” Khan said. “That’s why our fundraising goal is $15 million, not $10 million, which we would be shooting for if we only had to fund hockey. We’ve been working with the women’s lacrosse folks, and we both want the same thing for each other.”

In the meantime, UNLV is stepping up in competition on the club level. Mike Walley, executive director of the ACHA, said he expected the move given the commitment by Khan.

“Quite honestly, UNLV is an upcoming star,” Walley said. “They’ve been steadily increasing their performance, and for them to move up (to Division I) is a natural progression.”

Walley said the fact Las Vegas has an NHL team helped UNLV’s cause to move up.

“Having the NHL team there had a lot to do with the vote to allow UNLV in,” he said. “Having the NHL in town shows there’s a commitment to the sport, and we know they are supportive of what UNLV is trying to do.”

Khan said the move up means playing bigger schools with larger enrollments. But he said recruiting in the past two years has been done with that in mind.

“Our guys are excited, and our recruits are really excited,” Khan said. “It’s a growth process, and we don’t want to skip any steps.”

UNLV returns to action Friday and Saturday against No. 3 Northern Arizona at Las Vegas Ice Center. Both games will begin at 8:30 p.m.

The Rebels went 4-0 at the recent Beehive Showcase in Ogden, Utah.

“Our coaching staff has got our kids playing for each other, and we’re getting contributions from everyone,” Khan said. “We’re trying to win a national championship, so we accept the fact teams are trying to knock us off.”  

Contact Steve Carp at scarp@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2913. Follow @stevecarprj on Twitter.

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