Arizona Wildcats hockey makes conference debut
No. 19 Arizona hockey (3-3-0) hits the road for a fourth consecutive week to play its first Western Collegiate Hockey League game ever and its first Thursday matchup of the season against No. 11 Central Oklahoma (7-4-0).
This is the inaugural season for the six-team WCHL.
The game will also be the first time the two teams have met since Jan. 17, when the Bronchos defeated the Wildcats 3-2 in the Tucson Convention Center. Last season Arizona was 0-3-0 against Central Oklahoma and was outscored 9-4. Only facing off once in the 2011-12 campaign, the Bronchos emerged victorious 3-2 at Arctic Ice Arena.
“They [Central Oklahoma] block shots, they work extremely hard, and that’s how they’re successful,” said head coach Sean Hogan. “We need to make sure we’re taking shots from all angles, crashing the net and taking advantage of all opportunities.”
Both Arizona and Central Oklahoma are coming off series splits last week.
The Wildcats traveled to Lynchburg, Va., and opened the weekend with a 5-1 win over No. 10 Liberty on Friday. The following night, the Flames prevailed 5-2.
Last Friday, Central Oklahoma was shut out 2-0 by No. 4 Iowa State (9-1-0). Saturday, the Bronchos returned the favor, upending the Cyclones 2-0 as well.
With four goals and assists each, senior forwards Ansel Ivens-Anderson and Andrew Murmes are tied for a team-leading eight points. Ivens-Anderson, who scored two goals in Friday night’s contest, was named the team’s player of the week by the coaching staff.
“We just have to come out and play the same way we did last Friday and get a couple chances early and take the home advantage away from the other team quickly,” Ivens-Anderson said.
Sophomore forward Rylan Duley tops the Bronchos with 19 points on 13 goals and six assists. Behind him by a point is sophomore forward Riley Spraggs with a team-best 14 goals with four assists.
Central Oklahoma also has four other players with more than 10 points in senior forwards Seth Cory and Shane Khalaf, along with freshman forwards Michael Rivera and Sam Rice.
“Defensively, we’re pretty short-staffed, so we’re going to keep it simple,” said Wildcat junior defenseman and assistant captain Shane Gleason. “We know who those guys are that have a lot of points, so we’re just going to try to not get too out of our comfort zone defensively.”
In net tonight for Arizona will either be senior Steven Sisler, sophomore Dylon Hojnacki or freshman Garrett Patrick.
Sisler (1-1-0), who started both contests last weekend, enters this game with an .850 save percentage. Hojnacki (1-2-0) has been the starter four out of six games in the 2013-14 season, earning a .920 save percentage. Patrick, who didn’t travel with the team last week due to an illness, has yet to make his college hockey debut.
Junior Tory Caldwell (5-4-0) has seen the most action between the pipes for Central Oklahoma, with a save percentage of .920. However, don’t be surprised to see junior Bretton Patchett, who is undefeated in his four starts with a .970 save percentage.
Tuesday in Chandler, Ariz., was the only opportunity the Wildcats had to practice this week. Much to the pleasure of the players and coaches, it was also the last time the team will have to travel there for a practice until January.
“It’s tough coming out here and having no Internet, because guys have homework and it takes a lot of time out of your day,” Murmes said. “After this weekend we got a big home stretch coming up, and there’s nothing better than playing at home.”
The puck drops at 7:30 p.m. CST tonight. After their duel with the Bronchos, the Wildcats will square off on Friday and Saturday against No. 3 Oklahoma (5-0-1) at the Blazers Ice Center.
Besides Arizona, UCO and OU, the other WCHL teams are ASU, Colorado and Colorado State, though the Wildcats’ first series against the Sun Devils were non-conference games.
— Follow Joey Putrelo @JoeyPutrelo