Arizona hockey's senior goalie is ready to take the lead in the dance
Freshman Garrett Patrick is the future of Wildcat hockey, but the time is now for senior Steven Sisler as Arizona (17-23-0, 8-8-0 WCHL) heads into its first postseason appearance since 2006.
When sophomore walk-on goaltender Dylon Hojnacki was lost for the season to a concussion after the first month of the season, UA head coach Sean Hogan consistently split goalie time between Sisler (9-10-0) and Patrick (6-10-0).
Since the middle of October, if one got the nod Friday, the other was typically a lock to start between the pipes the following night. During the regular season, Sisler played 1,089.53 minutes in 21 games compared to Patrick’s 1,072.27 minutes over 20 appearances.
Comparing the two’s goals against average, Patrick’s (3.47) is over a half goal less than Sisler’s (4.02). But don’t let that fool you: GAA is the most overrated goalie statistic in the sport.
Both of their save percentages stand at an identical 0.890. Here’s the catch: Sisler had to work much harder for that number, facing more than 100 more shots total (685) than Patrick (583) in only one additional time on the ice.
This doesn’t mean Patrick is not qualified to start in the national tournament. For being a college hockey rookie, he showed many flashes of brilliance.
His greatest moment thus far in a Wildcats sweater came on Nov. 8 against then-No. 1 Minot State (23-6-0). Patrick saved 34 of 36 shots faced, leading Arizona to a 3-2 victory, its first over a top-ranked team since the start of the American Collegiate Hockey Association in 1992.
He also had three shutouts this season; two of them were against ACHA Division II programs. The other was against a newly-inaugurated Division I Colorado (11-19-2, 2-14-0 WCHL) squad, which ended up being the punching bag of the Western Collegiate Hockey League. Still, a college hockey shutout never looks bad on the stat sheet, and certainly doesn’t damage credibility.
Even though Patrick wouldn’t be a shabby choice, Sisler deserves the reins going into the tournament. As Hogan continues to add more talent to the program, Arizona will consistently be around in March, and Patrick’s day will come if he doesn’t make an appearance in Delaware this year.
“Sis,” as Hogan calls him, was a solid contributor for his head coach, playing and practicing through a groin injury for most of the season. In his last game at Oceanside Ice Arena against No. 1 ASU (34-2-0, 14-2-0 WCHL) on Feb. 1, Sisler delivered what was arguably the UA’s most heroic performances in the net of all time.
Battling through an uneasy stomach and the chills from the flu, he stopped a career-high 52 of 53 shots faced to stun the Sun Devils 2-1 on their senior night, snapping Arizona’s 37-game winless streak to its bitter rival.
Sisler was also a key contributor in the Wildcats’ season series sweep of No. 2 Oklahoma. He earned a trio of wins over the Sooners, saving a total 114 of 121 OU shots.
Arizona is scheduled to face No. 18 Illinois (20-17-2) in the first round Thursday.
The last time the two schools matched up, in October 2012, Sisler started both contests and helped the Wildcats accomplish a road sweep over the Illini. In the second game of the series, he saved 24 of 26 shots against en route to a 3-1 UA victory.
Whether it’s Sisler or Patrick who starts, Hogan, as per usual, will keep his choice secret from the public until game day.
“We have a tremendous amount of confidence in both guys, so we’ll see,” Hogan said the day Arizona was selected to the tournament.
—Follow Joey Putrelo @JoeyPutrelo