Arizona hockey close to big dance
Tyler Besh / Arizona Daily Wildcat
Hockey vs Oklahoma
With two more weekends before the field is announced, Arizona hockey is on the safe side of the bubble for the national tournament.
On Friday, No. 18 Arizona (14-15-0) stayed at what is currently the last playoff spot and beat No. 10 Liberty on the road, strengthening their chances at making the national tournament.
“We’re right there with the top teams and it looks like we have a good chance of making the national tournament now,” head coach Sean Hogan said.
There will be 20 teams that make the national tournament, mostly picked by the national rankings.
Champions from five conferences, plus the host school, Robert Morris (Ill.) receive automatic bids.
The champion of two conferences, the Central States Collegiate Hockey League and Great Lakes Collegiate Hockey League will be ranked in the top 20. On the other hand, College Hockey Mid-America has zero ranked teams and a bid stealer could come from the Eastern Collegiate Hockey Association or the Northeast Collegiate Hockey League.
In the ECHA, No. 12 Navy holds a one point lead over No. 21 Lebanon Valley. If the Midshipmen finish second and Lebanon Valley stays No. 21, then they take a bid.
If Navy wins out, they get the automatic bid.
In the NCHL, No. 20 Niagara has a slightly larger lead over No. 22 Buffalo, six points. Niagara is close to a lock though.
Arizona has two road trips left before the poll that picks the big dance is announced, at No. 2 Arizona State this weekend and at No. 3 Minot State.
“I’m hoping we should move up one or two spots to hopefully secure one of the last spots, but I’ve been surprised before with these rankings,” senior forward Brian Slugocki said. “I’m not sure, I just know if we get a few more wins we really secure our spot in the national tournament.”
The Wildcats have been ranked 16th through 19th the whole season. They started the season ranked No. 19, stayed there for two weeks, then moved up to No. 17 where they were for three weeks.
On Dec. 7 they dropped to No. 18 where they have remained ever since.
Hogan thinks one more win and the Wildcats will punch their ticket.
The Wildcats will be hard pressed to pass No. 16 Central Oklahoma, which went 3-0 against UA this year, but they could over take No. 17 Rhode Island. The Rams dropped from No. 15 and were swept last weekend at ASU.
“We’ll hold onto 18; there’s a good possibility we could move up to 17,” Hogan said. “So you never know, we’re right there. I think there’s some teams ranking us high and some teams ranking us too low, so it’s hard to say where we’ll end up, but we’re right where we need to be to make the national tournament now.”
Arizona has beaten No. 6 Oklahoma on the road and at home, No. 9 Illinois twice on the road, No. 10 Liberty on the road and No. 11 Oakland twice.
“I think we’ve shown with five or six wins against the top ten that we can compete with the best of them,” Slugocki said.
Hogan, who won three national championships at Oakland, said anything can happen in March.
“We’re probably a little underrated at 18 based on the teams that we’ve beaten, but you just got to get there and anything could happen,” Hogan said.