Hockey set to face top five teams

After being swept in a two-game series last weekend by No. 1 ASU, Arizona hockey returns against two familiar Midwestern foes.

Tonight, No. 17 Arizona will travel to Oklahoma City to play No. 3 Oklahoma (6-0-2), followed by a Friday and Saturday night series against No. 5 Central Oklahoma (9-0-0). The three games will count toward No. 17 Arizona’s (2-3-0) standing in its recently joined Western Collegiate Hockey League.

“Certainly, there are no breaks in our schedule this year,” UA head coach Chad Berman said. “After ASU, Oklahoma is easily the most talented team in the country. They have a great combination of size, skill and speed that makes them a difficult matchup. We will have to be at our best to go in there and get the win.”

Earlier in the season, Oklahoma moved up to No. 3 after sweeping Iowa State in Oklahoma City. The Sooners are 4-0 for games at home at Blazers Ice Centre.

Last weekend, the Sooners split a two-game series against No. 19 Lindenwood. However, before a 8-1 loss to the Lions, Oklahoma was on a five-game winning streak.

Center Ty Jones leads the Sooners with nine points. Oklahoma goalies Colin Fernandes, Hunter Fernandez and Cooper Cook all average saving percentages above 89 percent.

Last year, coach Berman’s Robert Morris hockey team beat Oklahoma in the Final Four on day four of the Men’s Division I National Tournament to advance to the finals.

Central Oklahoma swept a pair of home games against Missouri State before shutting out Iowa State on Sunday 1-0 to remain undefeated.

“UCO is a very good team that always plays hard for 60 minutes,” Berman said. “In a lot of ways, with our team this year, we are trying to model ourselves much like the way they go about their business. They are a team that grinds for three periods, blocks shots, takes away passing lanes and always gives an honest effort.”

The Bronchos have four players in the top-25 ACHA scorers. Left wing Rylan Duley and left wing Gaven Hohl both lead Oklahoma with 14 points each. Forward Sam Price was elected to the 2013-2014 Men’s Division I All-Rookie team last year.

Goalie Bretton Patchett has a 93 percent save percentage, while Tory Caldwell has 90.2 percent.

Although Arizona’s penalty kill was incredible last week against Arizona State, the Wildcats need to keep the aggressive play but learn to stay out of the penalty box.

“We must stay out of the box,” Berman said. “We can’t expect to survive against the top-10 teams if we are going to be in the box that much. Aside from being shorthanded, it disrupts the flow of the other lines, especially those not [getting] penalty kill minutes.”

Arizona will contend against two of the ACHA’s top-five teams after suffering from a two-game losing streak. The puck drops in Oklahoma City at 5:30 MST on Thursday, Friday and Saturday.

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