Hockey hosts No. 4 Liberty
Arizona hockey looks to carry the momentum it gained from snapping a six-game losing streak last weekend in a two-game series against Liberty tonight and Saturday.
The No. 4 Flames (21-4-1) are the third top 5 ACHA opponent the No. 13 Wildcats (12-13-0, 5-6-0 WCHL) have faced in their last six ACHA series. Liberty had won its last four out of five contests before its trip to Arizona, splitting a pair of games on the road against No. 10 Stony Brook (15-4-3) before losing 3-2 in overtime at No. 1 ASU on Thursday night.
The puck drops at 7:30 p.m. both games.
Earlier in the season, Arizona took the first of two contests versus Liberty in Lynchburg, Va., outscoring it 7-6 overall in the series.
“They grind, they hit, they stick you and they’re a frustrating team to play against,” UA head coach Sean Hogan said about the Flames. “That’s part of their strategy; they try and get you to take some penalties.”
At the Tucson Convention Center last Thursday, Arizona upset No. 3 Oklahoma (17-5-3, 5-6-0 WCHL) 5-3 and followed up with a split against No. 11 Central Oklahoma (19-8-3, 6-5-0 WCHL) to pick up a couple Western Collegiate Hockey League wins.
In the Wildcats’ 2-1 victory over the Bronchos last Friday, Hogan earned his 40th career win since taking over the program in 2011.
Currently, senior center Andrew Murmes leads the UA in points (38), goals (18), assists (20), power-play goals (eight), game-winning goals (two) and penalty minutes (73). In the series against Liberty on Oct. 11-12, 2013, he totaled three goals and two assists.
During the Friday night affair of that series, Arizona senior winger Ansel Ivens-Anderson found the net twice to go with as many assists. It was the last time the Wildcats’ captain had scored before lighting the lamp last Friday and Saturday night against Central Oklahoma.
Ivens-Anderson has missed seven of Arizona’s 27 games, dealing with a nagging foot injury for a majority of the season. He said protective padding was set up in his skate and that he now feels about 90 percent.
“We just need to stay tough, stay focused and make sure we have really good practices,” Ivens-Anderson said. “We are more than capable of beating Liberty.”
With walk-on sophomore Dylon Hojnacki out for the season with a concussion, Hogan has looked to a one-two punch between the pipes in senior Steven Sisler (6-6, 3.99 GAA) and freshman Garrett Patrick (5-6, 3.51 GAA). Both goaltenders have an identical save percentage of 0.89, but Patrick has played more minutes (717.17) than Sisler (662.43).
Before the break, Sisler was hampered by a groin injury. “We just need to get our legs moving this week,” Patrick said. “I think we were a little slow [Saturday], maybe tired, so we have to be ready for Liberty. They’re a hard-hitting team, so it’s going to be a good one.”
The Wildcats’ defense will look to contain Flames forward Lindsay LeBlanc, who leads his unit with 34 points on 12 goals and 22 assists. Senior Blair Bennett (11-2, 2.39 GAA) and freshman Matt Pinel (10-2, 2.92 GAA) have anchored the Flames’ goaltending.
In his start against the Wildcats on Oct. 11, Pinel was pulled by Bennett after giving up four goals in the 5-1 loss. The next day, Bennett started, saving 24 of the 26 shots faced in Liberty’s 5-2 victory.
Tonight and Saturday, anyone who is part of the police department, fire department or EMS or who is a nurse can buy two tickets and get one free.
“We’re playing well,” Hogan said. “We’re a really hard team to play against, and we have a really good shot to make the national tournament. We just have to keep plugging along, get another win next weekend and keep going.”
Follow Joey Prutrelo @JoeyPrutrelo