Rising from tragedy
UNLV hockey coach Robone getting back to normal routine after gunshot wound
January 11 was essentially an ordinary day for University of Nevada Las Vegas assistant hockey coach Nick Robone.
There was an early morning skate around. A luncheon with a new friend. And several hours of preparation before taking on the No. 2 ranked team in the American Collegiate Hockey Association, Minot State.
UNLV didn’t pull off an upset that night, dropping a 6-2 contest. But there’s a reason Minot State has only lost once in their last 61 games at their home venue, Maysa Arena.
The result aside, it was just another normal routine of Robone living his lifelong dream of having a career in hockey.
And that’s why it was so perfect.
The Route 91 Harvest festival was supposed to be a fun night for Robone, 28, and his brother, Anthony.
Instead, the evening was defined by a sound heard not long after country music star Jason Aldean started performing on stage.
“I was just there enjoying the concert and then the next thing I knew, I heard a couple gunshots,” Nick said. “I didn’t really know if they were gunshots at that point, but then I heard it again, then crouched down. Next thing you know, I was shot.”
Anthony, 25, turned around and saw that a bullet had hit Nick in his left chest. Acting immediately, Anthony picked up his brother and ran.
Once the pair got to a safer area, Anthony, a firefighter, stitched Nick up the best he could using some makeshift bandages.
About a half hour later, Nick arrived at a Las Vegas hospital.
“I had a pretty significant wound in my chest, but thank god it missed my heart,” Nick said. “It grazed my lung and I went into surgery later that night for about five hours.
“I was really lucky, the bullet just grazed my lung and I just had some lung damage. They had to go in and find the bullet because it stayed in my body. In that procedure, they cut open my sternum, they had to basically lift up my chest and go in there and find it. The biggest thing was trying to recover from a surgery that was essentially open heart surgery. It’s been about three months now, and I’m finally just now getting all my range of motion back. But that surgery was pretty taxing on my body.”
Anthony, on the other hand, didn’t get to the hospital for a few more hours. He waited until an ambulance arrived for Nick, then stayed behind and offered to help law enforcement and other victims of the shooting.
It was heroic efforts like his brother’s that Nick tries to remember from the night that changed his life forever.
“October first was obviously a pretty horrific night for a lot of people,” Nick said. “For everyone at that concert and then the community afterward. It was a pretty horrific event. But you want to make sure the right people get credit, there were a ton of heroes that night. Firefighters, police officers, common citizens, everybody kind of rallied to get people out of there. Those are the most important stories from that night that we can hopefully draw light to more than anything.”
After his surgery, Robone stayed in the intensive care unit to recover for six days, then spent another four days in the hospital.
While in the ICU, Robone was in a room next to someone with a name all-too-familiar for North Dakotans, Minot native Andrew Gudmunson. Gudmunson, nicknamed “Goody” by locals, was visiting Las Vegas with his girlfriend, McKenna Larson. Like Robone, Gudmunson also attended the concert and was shot, leading to eventual surgery on his abdomen later that night.
Robone and Gudmunson never met or spoke until a few months later. But Robone’s family bonded with Larson in the waiting room while they waited for their loved ones to recover from their injuries.
“I met the Robone family during one of the most horrific moments of my life,” Larson said. “Having no one in the ICU waiting area, I quickly took to Nick’s parents to watch over me and provide a sense of safety during the madness. They reminded me of my parents and at the time I needed that more than ever.”
When Gudmunson finally woke up, Robone had already been discharged from the ICU, so the pair didn’t knowingly cross paths initially.
“I can only imagine what that time was like for the Robone family and I am forever grateful that they welcomed McKenna in that night. From what I’ve heard, the people in the ICU waiting room became like a family. They shared in excitement when one of us that was injured received good news and comforted each other when the news was not so good.”
When the UNLV hockey team traveled to Minot in mid January for a matchup with the Beavers, Robone wanted to reach out to Gudmunson and Larson, so the trio met up for a quick lunch before the game.
“They’re great people,” he said. “We talked about everything in life. I’m really happy to see Andrew is doing better and up and walking. He went through a lot, so it’s been a great story to see someone like that prevail after that incident.
“Life is pretty crazy. You never know what it’s going to throw at you and who you’re going to meet. I was pretty fortunate to meet someone like that in this world because you want to have good relationships wherever you’re at.”
At the lunch, Robone, Larson and Gudmunson each recounted their own versions of events from that night.
“Everyone’s story is unique in its own way, but at the same time you almost feel connected with them because of what we’ve all gone through,” Gudmunson said. “Having that feeling with complete strangers from all over this country is a tough one to describe. My first impression of Nick was he’s just another guy, similar in age, that just went to the festival to have a good time when the unthinkable happened. He told us how he has been using the platform he has in Las Vegas to hold fundraisers for the victims and PTSD assistance. How can you not like a guy like that?”
Right after that fateful night in October, Robone wanted nothing more than for his life to go back to normal.
He didn’t spend much time indulging in self pity, as he actually considered himself one of the lucky ones seeing as there were many involved in that night that were less fortunate than him.
“Hockey really played a big part of me trying to stay positive,” Robone said. “I just kept looking forward to getting back on to the ice with our guys and achieving our goals that we set at the beginning of the year. Right away, I just knew I really wanted to get back to that.”
Meanwhile, UNLV was scheduled to play a two-game weekend series five days after the mass shooting. The Rebels, along with many other Vegas community members, were reeling from the aftermath of Sunday’s events.
There was brief talk of postponing the contests, but Robone was going to have no part in that.
“I didn’t want them to break their routine just because of me,” he said. “I knew I was going to be alright anyway.”
With Robone watching from his hospital bed, the Rebels defeated Utah 8-0 and 10-6 in front of their home crowd at City National Arena.
“The guys realized we had a great opportunity to provide a two to three hour break from reality for the fans,” Robone said. I got a lot of texts from them during that time wishing me well, but I just wanted them to stay focused. I wanted them to keep worrying about school and keep worrying about hockey. I really think they were able to see what Vegas was all about, because a lot of guys on our team aren’t from there.”
Robone made his return to the rink in UNLV’s home contest against Jamestown on Nov. 9 for the first time since being shot, but he might have had a bigger night the next day. Behind a sold out crowd, Robone’s Rebels took down then-No. 1 Minot State 2-1 in his second game back on the bench.
“There’s always more important things in life,” Minot State coach Wade Regier said. “All of us in the ACHA compete against each other, but in the grand scheme of things, there are more important things in life. If there was ever a situation where you might be OK with losing one, that would be it.”
Since rejoining the team, Robone hasn’t missed a beat and has tried his best to get back to as normal of a life as possible.
“I’m expected to make a full recovery,” Robone said. “I can’t play hockey for a few more months because they don’t want me to have any impact on my chest but come March, I should be ready to go. I’ll just have a gnarly scar. If I could give advice to anyone, it would just be to keep doing what you love to do. That incident makes you realize life is very special and very short. You can’t take anything for granted.”
Garrick Hodge covers Minot State athletics, the Minot Minotauros and high school sports. Follow him on Twitter @Garrick_Hodge.