Bas Assaf breaks stereotypes

By Faryn Duncan | October 30th, 2017

Bas Assaf waiting to enter the game from the Skatin’ Rebels’ bench. Photo provided by: Bas Assaf
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The rink is packed with fans sporting UNLV hockey gear, holding too-close-to-spilling cups of beer and baskets of fried food. The music is blaring from the speakers above, but you can still hear the blades scraping and sticks tapping against the ice as the Skatin’ Rebels warm up to take on their next opponent. A Vegas Golden Knights game is playing on the TV in the bar, so the fans are already in the zone, ready for a night of great hockey.

 

Bas Assaf is in the middle of the ice, with one thing on his mind: His love for the game that he has been playing since he was only three years old. All of the things he has to balance throughout the day — his classwork, his fraternity, his secret passions, his responsibilities — are no longer bouncing through his head. For the next three hours, nothing else matters but playing hockey.

 

“It is that moment of not having to worry about anything,” Assaf said. “It is just me out there playing the game and having fun.”

 

Assaf, 22, is in his second season as a Skatin’ Rebel. He began playing roller hockey at three years old and moved on to ice hockey at 10. He was first exposed to roller hockey at a minor league baseball game he attended with his family. In the park across the street, a group of kids were smacking the puck around with their parents watching on, cheering. It spiked his curiosity and his mom, Beth Assaf, signed him up.

Ice hockey was not big in his hometown, Rancho Cucamonga, California, so he did not start playing on the ice until he was 10 years old. He said this set him behind a little because most kids, especially in Canada where hockey is huge, start much younger.

“I actually hated it,” Assaf said. “I didn’t want to be on the ice. I cried every day. I just didn’t want to play. But I ended up sticking to it and fell in love with it.”

 

When Assaf was 13 years old, his coach switched him from his first position, forward, to defense. It was around this time that Assaf’s attitude toward the sport flipped and he found himself loving his time on the ice. He continued to play throughout high school and after graduation committed to playing with the Valencia Flyers, a junior ice hockey team in the Western States Hockey League.

 

When it came to choosing where to go to college, Assaf had a handful of options. UNLV head coach Anthony Greener and assistant coach Nick Robone scouted Assaf, and after a visit, he knew becoming a Rebel was the right choice. He joined the team with his best friend of seven years and former Skatin’ Rebel, Niklas Giers. Assaf credited his mom as the primary reason he chose to attend UNLV.


“My mom is absolutely my number one. She is everything to me,” Assaf said. “She comes to every single game that I play and I think she has missed maybe three games my entire hockey career.”

Assaf said his mom liked that UNLV was just a short three-hour drive from their home so that she could attend all of Assaf’s games. He said that

Bas Assaf on the ice at City National Arena. Photo provided by: Bas Assaf

before every game, he looks into the crowd to see his mom sitting in the stands and after that he knows he is ready to play.

“I don’t need to talk to her or say anything, I just need to see that she’s there,” Assaf said. “If I know she’s there, one, I get scared that if I play bad she’s going to yell at me. Two, I just know that I can go out there and do my best.”

When Assaf first started his ice hockey career, he had not completely bought in yet. There were a lot of 45-minute car rides to practice that were spent complaining and throwing fits. His mom used to tell him that if he hated it so much, he should just quit. She encouraged him to do the things in life that made him happy. But her loving support and loud cheers from the stands played a part in transforming his love for the sport. Then her message became something different.

“If you give 90 percent, I am not driving you tomorrow,” Beth would say to Assaf as he geared up for practice. If he wanted to be the best, he would have to work hard for it and 90 percent would not cut it. Beth continued to cheer him on as he matured in the sport and in life. Assaf said he is grateful to have a mom that supports him like she does.

During this past summer, Assaf lost touch with ice hockey. He could no longer recall what it was that made him continue to wake up at six every morning to go to practice — things became tedious. But, when season and school started back up again this semester, he said it all fell right back into place.

 

“I was actually going to quit because I lost that feel-good feeling,” Assaf said. “When the season started, it picked back up and I found that passion again. I love every second of being at UNLV. I have a blast.”

 

His favorite part of playing is seeing kids’ faces light up as they watch his team play. He said that to them, he and his teammates are like “superheroes” and it is amazing to have them look up to him.

 

UNLV has brought Assaf so much more than an opportunity to play hockey. He has met great people at the school and, being a talker, he has had a great time meeting and connecting with other students. He joined Pi Kappa Alpha his first year as a Rebel and found that it has been one of the best decisions he has made. Assaf is also majoring in radiology.

Assaf said he receives a lot of stereotypical remarks from students about being a frat-boy hockey player, but that there is much that people don’t know about him. Assaf proclaims himself the biggest “momma’s boy” out there. He is also secretly a huge computer game nerd, specifically loving “League of Legends.”

“I can truly say that is one of my passions now. I may not be the best, but I love it and I truly want to practice and get better,” Assaf said. “If for some reason I stopped playing hockey, that is the one thing that I would try to strive for.”

 

One day while playing computer games with a group of students on the second floor of the library, a friend Assaf came up to him and wondered why he was hanging out with “those nerds.” Assaf was shocked by what he’d heard and said, “Why not? I absolutely love playing games too.” Assaf said that he would never let anyone make him doubt the things he loves just because of a stereotype.

Joining the eSports team at UNLV is a secret dream of Assaf’s, but he feels he is not quite good enough yet. Like any other sport, eSports take time and dedication, two things he is not able to devote to computer games until he finishes playing hockey.

 

For now, eSports will remain a hobby because the Skatin’ Rebels’ season is well underway. In the 2016-17 season, Assaf scored 44 points in 37 games. This season, Assaf has already scored 10 points in nine games and hopes to see that number continue to go up.

 

“I just love being on the ice playing with my teammates,” Assaf said. “It’s all about having fun for me. Just doing what I love to do.”


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