Arizona hockey returns to postseason
It took a program overhaul that involved hiring a new head coach, joining the UA club sports department and changing its team name for the Arizona hockey program to earn a tournament appearance. After almost a decade, the Wildcats have been invited to the American Collegiate Hockey Association Division I National Championships.
Arizona (17-19-0, 8-8-0 WCHL) was selected the 15th seed and is scheduled to face the No. 18 seed, Illinois (18-16-2). The tournament will be hosted by Delaware and is a one-and-done playoff format.
The last time Arizona was given a bid to the tournament was in the 2005-06 season when it was owned by then head coach Leo Golembiewski and known as the “Icecats.” Golembiewski started the Icecats franchise in the late 1970s and won a national championship in 1985, when they were not a part of the ACHA.
That era ended three years ago, when former captain and president Brian Slugocki, along with several of his teammates, came together to bring about a change to the program. They went to the UA with requests to become associated with the university, get a new head coach and continue playing home games at the Tucson Convention Center.
In the summer of 2011, Arizona hired former Oakland ACHA Division I national champion coach Sean Hogan as its new leader.
Last season Hogan and the Wildcats had high hopes to be in the national tournament after going 15-23-0. However, Arizona finished ranked No. 20 and was snubbed when it came to a bid for Rutgers.
“We thought we deserved it last year, so we think we’re a year late,” Hogan said. “It will be about how we prepare ourselves mentally and physically over the next two weeks, and then anything’s possible over the course of a week.”
Being selected for the tournament was the icing on the cake of an already historic year for Arizona.
Earlier this season the Wildcats defeated two No. 1 teams for the first time in program history after beating then top-ranked Minot State on Nov. 8 at the TCC and ASU on its senior night Feb. 1.
For the newer faces of Wildcat hockey, this accomplishment may seem routine. But for the six seniors, especially the five who were Icecats as freshman, the invitation carries a much heavier weight.
“This is for all the Wildcats and Icecats who went four years without beating ASU or making it to the national tournament,” said senior forward and team point-scoring leader Andrew Murmes. “We’re doing it for them.”
Because no one on the Arizona roster has ever played in the postseason at the ACHA level, the players must use prior experience from other leagues.
Luckily for the Wildcats, their captain Ansel Ivens-Anderson has played on one of college hockey’s biggest stages. Both years the senior forward was part of New Hampshire’s NCAA Division I program, he helped the team advance to the Elite Eight.
“We have plenty of guys here that have been on winning teams with a lot of postseason experience,” Ivens-Anderson said. “The guys that don’t are still very skilled players, so it’s a good mix.”
While the coaches and players alike are celebrating now, their work in the regular season is not yet finished.
This weekend Arizona will square off twice against No. 1 ASU (34-2-0) at the TCC. The puck will drop both nights at 7:30 p.m., and Saturday is the UA’s senior night.
“It’s all about effort and attitude; it’s never been about talent,” Hogan said. “But we’re onward and upward, headed in the right direction.”
—Follow Joey Putrelo @JoeyPutrelo