Hockey faces Illinois in first national tournament appearance since 2006
March Madness starts a little early for the UA this year. But instead of wearing sleeveless jerseys and high-top sneakers on a hardwood floor, these Wildcats will be clad in sweaters and skates on ice.
Today, Arizona hockey will play in the American Collegiate Hockey Association Division I National Championships for the first time in just under a decade.
The No. 15 Wildcats (17-23-0, 8-8-0 WCHL) will face No. 18 Illinois (20-17-2) in the first round of the one-and-done tournament at Fred Rust Arena, in Newark, Del. Puck drop is scheduled for 3 p.m. Arizona time.
“Defensive zone coverage [is our focus going into the tournament] and power play as well,” head coach Sean Hogan said after the team fell to No. 1 ASU 8-2 in the final regular season game. “We’re not making real good decisions on the power play and the entry; it’s been an issue the past few weeks.”
Senior Andrew Murmes (21) stands for the national anthem during UA hockey senior night on Feb. 22. Today the Wildcats play in the national tournament for the first time since 2006.
In 2006, the most recent year Arizona was invited to the postseason, it was knocked out in the opening round as the 12th seed. That year, head coach Sean Hogan won his first ACHA Division I ring as the man in charge of Oakland, which is currently the 14th seed in the tournament.
If they win the next five games, the Wildcats will be champions of the ACHA for the first time ever.
In 1985, former head coach Leo Golembiewski won a national championship while the Wildcats were not part of the league and were known as the “Icecats.” Former Icecat and Hogan’s lead assistant coach Dave Dougall was a defenseman on that squad.
This season, the UA is the only team in the ACHA to defeat two No. 1 opponents, the defending ACHA champs, Minot State on Nov. 8 and ASU on Feb. 1. Arizona also has seven wins over top-10 programs, which is three more than the Illini have.
Senior forward Andrew Murmes finished the regular season leading the Wildcats in points (59) for the third consecutive year. His points earned in the national tournament will add on to his stats, and Murmes is three points away from becoming the 13th Wildcat to reach 200 career points.
“Hockey’s a real simple game, and the people who move on to the next level do simple things well,” Murmes said. “We have to get back to basics, flow, working together, memorization and finding each other, and that’s going to help us win.”
Either senior Steven Sisler (9-10-0) or rookie Garrett Patrick (6-10-0) will get the nod in net. Both have split goalie time all season and have an identical save percentage of 0.890.
Illinois is led in point scoring by senior forward Eddie Quagliata and freshman defenseman Cody von Rueden, who have 36 each. Nick Clarke (10-14-3) has seen most of the playing time between the pipes for the Illini, and has a 3.24 GAA with a save percentage of 0.880.
Last season was the most recent time the programs faced one another, and Arizona took a pair of games against Illinois in its own barn. Wednesday was the Wildcats’ lone day of practice this week to prepare for tonight.
The game will be broadcast on fasthockey.com. Whoever wins will face No. 2 Oklahoma (26-5-2) in the second round on Friday night at 3 p.m. MST.
“[For us] the season starts all over again,” said captain and senior winger Ansel Ivens-Anderson. “If we lose, we go home, so we’re going to work real hard and get ready.”
—Follow Joey Putrelo @JoeyPutrelo