Hockey looks for rebound season
Although it’s still 99 degrees in Tucson, grab your winter coat and bundle up because Arizona Wildcat hockey is back for the year. An official roster of 33 men begins the 2014-15 season under the direction of new head coach, Chad Berman.
Arizona is currently ranked No. 18 in the 2014-15 ACHA Men’s Division 1 preseason ranking. This season, the captain is Shane Gleason, with assistant captains Matt Nowicki, Jason Effertz and Alex O’Dea.
“We have a young team this year, so I’m striving to lead by example for these guys on and off the ice to show them how to be student-athletes,” Gleason said. “I expect us to battle for a whole 60 minutes each night to give ourselves a chance to win, and to settle for nothing less than our team goal of winning a national championship.”
Returning players Robbie Wilkinson, O’Dea, Gleason and Nowicki are primed for the opportunity to have veteran influence on rookies. Berman expects production and veteran leadership from those four players.
“Since we lost our two top scorers from last season, I think it will really open up a lot of opportunity for guys like Wilkinson and O’Dea to make major contributions to the team this year,” Berman said.
Berman believes that rookies Griffen Dyne, Orion Olsen, Alex Nespor, Kyle Griffin and Brett Fagerheim will stand out immediately. With these additions, the Wildcats gain depth that they have lacked during the past few seasons. The NCAA Division-III transfer from Hobart, Dylan Carter, is among the group of new faces that acts as a huge asset to the team.
“[Carter] plays with a lot of speed and likes to get to the net as much as he likes to block shots,” Berman said. “I expect an immediate impact and leadership out of him.”
Last year, Arizona’s rookie of the year was goalie Garrett Patrick, who impressed throughout the year with a save percentage of .894 and a GAA of 3.47. Patrick earned three shutouts and saved 34 of 36 shots for the win over then-No. 1 Minot State.
Previously an independent program, the Arizona Wildcats joined the Western Collegiate Hockey League last year. The Wildcats finished with a record of 17-24 and made a postseason appearance.
The 2014-15 squad is working hard to attain a winning record and prove it can climb the national rankings.
“Last season was a bit inconsistent, so I believe we need to work on keeping our standard high for what we expect of ourselves every day,” Berman said. “If we can continue to improve with that attitude, anything is possible.”
It is too early to pinpoint the team’s strengths. However, a unanimous opinion among the hockey team and coaching staff is that this season’s team is full of positivity and passion.
“This season, everyone has a lot more passion for the game,” O’Dea said. “Even coach sees it and said he has never had a team that wants to be doing it and working hard everyday. We’re having fun with it, bringing positive energy and always coming ready to work.”
The Wildcats start their hockey season on the road in Flagstaff, Ariz., against the NAU Lumberjacks on Saturday at 8:30 p.m. MST.
Follow Zoe Wolkowitz on Twitter @zowolko