Arizona hockey to host Central Oklahoma, in need of wins
Wildcat hockey heads into its last home weekend until late February, needing wins but playing short handed.
No. 18 Arizona (13-13) hosts No. 17 Central Oklahoma (13-11) tonight at the Tucson Convention Center at 7:30 p.m.
“We’re not in a must-win mode, but we’re pretty close,” head coach Sean Hogan said.
Arizona has one chance to avenge losses to Central Oklahoma before hosting its travel partner No. 5 Oklahoma on Friday and Saturday.
Arizona’s trip to Oklahoma was its last win over a Division I team. After blowing two-goal leads against then-No. 4 Minot State and a three-goal lead against No. 10 Liberty last week, the Wildcats haven’t protected a lead since a 4-3 win Dec. 8 against NAU to end last semester.
“We know that nationals is kind of on the line here and that they’re the team that’s right above us in the rankings,” senior defenseman Zack Waxenberg said. “The last few games have been disappointing, but the positives that we can take out of of it is that we held leads in those games and played well for parts of those games.”
The Wildcats are 0-2 this season against Central Oklahoma, which swept Arizona in Oklahoma City. “If we beat Central Oklahoma, and Oklahoma one of the two nights, I think we can cement ourselves at 17 or 18,” Hogan said.
On Nov. 15, UA earned arguably its best win of the season, beating then-No. 6 Oklahoma 3-1 . The next two days, the Wildcats were upset by UCO, which passed them in the rankings.
“It was definitely a wake up call and it was surprising,” Waxenberg said. “We played really well the first night and we had all the confidence and like last weekend, we held leads in both games, but I think we had to just go back to the drawing board after that.”
After these home games, he Wildcats will have a seven-game road trip where they play three top-10 teams: ASU, Minot State and Liberty.
“This game Thursday is an absolute must-win, and the Oklahoma series is no different,” Waxenberg said. “We’ve kind of put ourselves behind the eight ball a little bit with these past few results.”
The Wildcats didn’t practice Monday and ended practice early on Tuesday. Five players couldn’t practice as the team was hit by the flu.
“We’re battling injuries, guys are sick, but it’s about how you handle adversity to take the next step,” Hogan said.
Hogan expects most of them to play, but freshman forward Dane Irving is out because of a concussion.
“He’s a big loss; he’s a grinder type kid; he’s got speed,” Hogan said. “He doesn’t score a ton of goals, but that not what he’s about. He makes the right decision with the puck and he’s a plus player on the ice. He rarely gets scored against.”
Hogan said they have been playing sophomore forward David Rizk on defense in practice in case they need him back there.
Sophomore defenseman Matt Nowicki and freshman defenseman Nick Hinsberg will be suspended for their roles in the fight at beginning of the second intermission Saturday.
The good news is that Waxenberg will return after missing last weekend because of a separated shoulder. The Wildcats are hoping a rare weekend where they don’t have to compete against the football or men’s basketball team for fans will help attendance.
“I really think that will help out the attendance for sure,” Waxenberg said.