Arizona hockey closer than ever to nationals
Briana Sanchez / Arizona Daily Wildcat
UA hockey team goes up against Eastern Michigan University October 27, 2012 with a final score of 5-3.
Wildcat hockey is on the verge of making its first national tournament appearance in years, and it has many chances to bolster its resumé this semester.
“Our schedule is difficult this whole second half,” head coach Sean Hogan said. “We’re playing all ranked opponents. The good thing about that is being a bubble team, we control our destiny, so win some games and we’re in.”
After years of playing schedules loaded with Division II teams, this year the Wildcats upgraded their schedule, especially in the spring semester.
Junior goalie Steven Sisler thinks the Wildcats can compete with the highly ranked teams and go to nationals.
“We definitely have a difficult schedule this year, but our team is getting better and better each year,” Sisler said.
This semester, No. 18 Arizona (13-11-0) will play No. 3 ASU four times, twice on the road and twice at home. The Wildcats also face No. 4 Minot State twice on the road, No. 6 Oklahoma twice at home, No. 10 Liberty twice at home and twice on the road and No. 18 Central Oklahoma once at home.
“We need to get at least one win every weekend or our hopes of going to the national tournament are pretty much squashed,” senior forward Brian Slugocki said.
From 1983 to 2003, Arizona never finished lower than eighth at the national tournament, but since then the team has only made it once, in 2005-06.
“Whether we go in as a two seed or a 16 seed, it doesn’t matter,” Hogan said.
Twenty teams make the national tournament, which is mostly determined by rankings, but some automatic qualifying conference champions are not expected to be ranked in the top 20.
Right now there are two leagues not in the top 20, so No. 18 would be good enough, but if No. 11 Navy doesn’t win its league, that takes up another spot, Hogan said.
“To be completely safe, we need to be at 16,” Hogan said.
The Wildcats are ranked No. 18 and No. 14 in the computer rankings, but it is the human polls that decide who plays in the postseason.
Sisler, with a 9-10 record, 3.37 goals against average and a 0.89 save percentage, leads the team in the net.
Offensively, the Wildcats rely on three players to do most of the scoring: junior forward Ansel Ivens-Anderson, who has 17 goals and 18 assists, junior forward Andrew Murmes, who has 12 goals and 22 assists, and Slugocki, who has 16 goals and 17 assists.
“The first half was actually pretty good. We had 13 wins, as much as we had all of last year, with a much more difficult schedule,” Hogan said.
Arizona has five wins against teams currently in the top 12.
“It is surprising,” Sisler said about the rankings. “It’s kind of frustrating at times, because we still have to earn everyone’s acceptance that we’re not just a top 25 team anymore, we’re actually a top 15, top 10 team now.”
Slugocki said it is “tough to say” if he is surprised Arizona isn’t ranked higher because, while they have big wins, they also lost to teams they should have beaten.
“We just need to make sure everybody is focused for the next five weeks and if we do that, I definitely think we can make it to the nationals,” Slugocki said.