Tuesday, Aug. 28, 2018 | 2 a.m.
Out of the small amount of hockey taking place in the 1990s in Las Vegas, most of it was on wheels.
Cody Williams was one local child who grew up playing roller hockey, competing at the Las Vegas Roller Hockey Center near Maryland Parkway and Sahara Avenue. When he was 14 years old, his parents would drive him to Southern California three weekends a month so he could play on the Anaheim Bulldogs travel team.
“He always had talent,” said Daniel Corsatea, who owns Las Vegas Roller Hockey Center and remembers watching Williams play as a youth. “He was really fast and could move real quick. He was probably the most dangerous kid on the floor when he was playing. He was short but he could skate like the wind and could shoot.”
Eventually Williams knew he’d have to trade the wheels for blades if he wanted to continue his hockey career.
“I took roller more seriously than ice until I moved away from Las Vegas,” Williams said. “I loved roller more than ice because there was more of it at the time.”
Two decades later, after playing ice hockey for eight teams in eight different cities, Williams has returned to his hometown and will wear the “C” on his chest as captain of the UNLV ice hockey team this fall.
“Sometimes it’s hard to believe that it’s real,” Williams said. “It’s a dream come true, and it’s very humbling. It’s a great opportunity and I just want to make sure I do everything and carry it the right way.” Williams is entering his senior season at UNLV after racking up 84 goals and 75 assists over the last three seasons. He had a team-leading plus-minus rating of plus-17 while on the ice last year as he helped the Rebels advance to the American Collegiate Hockey Association (ACHA) Division 1 National Championships tournament in Columbus, Ohio.
“He’s a goal scorer, and possibly one of the fastest players on the ice each night, and leads by example,” said Zee Khan, UNLV hockey general manager.
After stints with junior hockey teams in South Dakota, Kansas, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and British Columbia, Williams received a call from UNLV assistant coach Nick Robone asking if he wanted to continue his hockey career back in Las Vegas.
“Nick called and was like, ‘Hey I heard you weren’t doing anything. If you want to come back to school, we’re going to take over the ice program,’” Williams said. “So I’m like, 'Sure, I’ve been skating a little bit and I’d love to play again.' So that’s kind of how it all unraveled.”
Head coach Anthony Vignieri Greener, Khan and Robone had a vision for what the UNLV hockey team could be, and Williams has helped them accomplish it on the ice.
“His willingness to want to be a leader demonstrates how far he has come,” Khan said. “He bought into our vision as a freshman and now as a senior, and our captain, we are excited to see him continue to grow, and leave behind his own legacy on the new group of players. He’s the type of player who truly reflects the culture we are trying to build.” In the four years since Williams has returned, the hockey landscape in Las Vegas has completely transformed with the arrival of the Golden Knights.
“It’s crazy in the best way,” Williams said. “It’s what I’ve wanted my whole life, so for everyone to finally get on board with a sport that I’ve always loved is awesome. It’s the greatest sport — I think — ever.” UNLV hockey has improved in leaps and bounds, partially thanks to the Golden Knights for allowing them to make City National Arena their home rink. Williams will lead his teammates onto the City National ice 15 times during his senior season — most of the time in front of sellout crowds.
“It’s a game-changer,” Williams said. “The crowd boosts you more than you think, especially when it’s that many people.”
Williams isn’t sure what his future holds.
“I’m going to wait it out,” Williams said. “I’d love to keep playing (professionally), so hopefully that’s an option, so I’m going to wait and see. I’m majoring at UNLV in hospitality, and I don’t necessarily want to jump to a job right away. I’m just going to enjoy this season and wait and see.”