Las Vegas Sun

December 15, 2017

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HOCKEY:

Nothing can keep this defenseman down

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Stephen R. Sylvanie / Special to the Sun

Las Vegas Wranglers defenseman Robbie Bina steals a glance at the Orleans Arena video board during a stoppage in play on Nov. 4. Bina, a former standout at the University of North Dakota, is now leading the Wranglers with eight assists in 11 games this season.

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Wranglers defenseman Robbie Bina waits for teammates to complete a line change before a face off against the Bakersfield Condors on Nov. 6 at the Orleans Arena.

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When Robbie Bina skates onto the ice at the Orleans Arena, a video plays of the under-sized defenseman pretending to punch out his much taller and much heavier line mate Chris Frank.

The comical introduction is vintage Bina — an adored teammate who is as valuable on the ice as he is in the locker room.

"He's definitely a character," said Wranglers head coach and General Manager Ryan Mougenel. "He's really well liked by his teammates. He's a real easy-going kid. He plays the game from the back end the way it should be played — extremely hard."

Bina's infectiously positive attitude is due in part, though, to a horrific incident he suffered while playing for the University of North Dakota.

Late in Bina's sophomore season in 2005, a hit from behind by University of Denver freshman Geoff Paukovich sent Bina crashing into the boards head first.

The collision shattered vertebrae in Bina's neck, requiring surgery to remove one vertebra and fuse two others together while also leaving the young defenseman's career in jeopardy.

"It was hard, but everyone around me was optimistic and I remained positive," Bina said. "Things happen in hockey. It's a physical sport. I know (Paukovich) wasn't trying to hurt me, and I just thank God it didn't turn out worse."

Still in a neck brace from the surgery, Bina had to watch from the sidelines as his Fighting Sioux teammates advanced to the NCAA championship that season, eventually losing the title to Denver 4-1.

But Bina's comeback effort was just beginning.

The Grand Forks, N.D., native sat out the 2005-06 season before returning to his hometown team stronger than ever.

Bina tallied 32 points in 43 games in his first year back. He added on another 25 points during his senior season.

"It was great to be back on the ice and it was an honor to play for North Dakota and all of the great players in that program," Bina said. "Just being a hometown kid from Grand Forks, it was great to play in front of those fans. I loved every minute of it."

Bina also claimed a bit of national spotlight during his stellar season for scoring the longest goal in NCAA history off of an ice-length shot against Minnesota in 2007.

The fluke goal has attracted more than 800,000 viewers on Youtube and was the No. 1 highlight on ESPN's Sportscenter.

"Yeah every once in a while people bring that up," Bina said. "It was really just luck."

As if Bina's hockey career couldn't take any more unexpected turns, it did just that after graduation when Bina headed to the Stockton Thunder.

He split the 2008-09 season between Stockton and the AHL's Springfield Falcons, but he did so alongside Paukovich, who was also sharing time in Springfield and Stockton.

True to form, Bina embraced Paukovich with no ill will.

"I'm not the kind of guy to hold a grudge," Bina said. "It was an accident."

Despite only posting 16 points in 65 games last season, the 26-year-old Bina has helped lead the Wranglers offense this year under Mougenel, his former coach in Stockton.

Bina leads the Wranglers with eight assists through 11 games and he is tied for the team lead with nine points.

"I think the one thing he does is skate extremely well, and that helps out on both offense and defense," Mougenel said. "He's grown leaps and bounds since college and I think he definitely deserves to be at the next level if we can get his size overlooked… You would never know that he had a very serious injury, because he still plays with that kind of reckless abandon."

Bina's offensive resurgence has been greatly aided by the physical prowess of his line mate Frank.

The speedy 5-foot-8, 180-pound Bina definitely offsets the 6-foot-1, 230-pound Frank.

"I think it's a great pairing," Bina said. "Frank is able to let me run around a little bit to produce some offense. Hopefully we can keep it going."

Mougenel hopes Bina can keep his point producing play going too as the 5-6 Wranglers have scored a division-low 30 goals while allowing a conference-high 41 goals this season.

Bina is certainly up to the challenge and you can bet he'll take it on with a smile.

"I'm having a blast out here," Bina said. "I love coming to the rink everyday. I love Las Vegas and the fans here. Everything is great."

Steve Silver can be reached at 948-7822 or [email protected].

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