UA hockey hosts home opener over weekend

After eight straight road games, Arizona Wildcat ice hockey is officially back in Tucson.

“For us to say we’re excited would be an understatement,” UA captain Shane Gleason said. “Half of these guys have never even played a game in our home arena, so they’re especially looking forward to it. Even for the returning guys it is a new feeling with all the renovation upgrades. It’s pretty safe to say that our energy level will be really high come Friday night.”

The No. 17 Arizona Wildcats (3-0-5) host the No. 9 Liberty Flames (8-1-4) in a two-game series starting on Friday and concluding Saturday. The Flames are 9-2-1 against Arizona in the all-time series.

This will be the second time of the 2014-15 season that Arizona and Liberty face each other. Since rallying from a 5-2 deficit to force overtime and then dealing the Flames a 6-5 loss in a shoot-out, the Wildcats split the series in Lynchburg, Va.

“We are looking to build off of some of the things we did right against them when we won,” head coach Chad Berman said. “We want to work low below the goal line on this team. They are a very skilled team, but we feel we have come a long ways defensively since we saw them last. I am a big believer that it takes four goals to win a regular season game and three goals to win a playoff game. That will be our mentality moving forward.”

Liberty freshman forward and leading scorer Luke Hannon netted five goals in Liberty’s win against Davenport on Saturday night. Hannon accordingly moved into a tie for seventh place among American Collegiate Hockey Association Division I leaders with 21 points, including seven goals and 14 assists.

Kirk Handy is in his 15th season as the Flames’ head coach and has a career record of 316-129-19.

Since last playing the Flames, the Wildcats have gone 1-4 against three teams ranked in the top-five in the nation.On Oct. 16, Arizona upset No. 5 Oklahoma, 4-3, before being swept by No. 3 Central Oklahoma on the same Artic Edge Ice Arena ice, 6-2 and then again 5-2.

The Wildcats are led in scoring by freshman right-winger Alex Nespor with six goals and two assists. Following Nespor are forward Alex O’dea with three goals and defenseman Wil Pointon with five assists.In goal, Garrett Patrick is 3-4 with a .414 GAA and an .880 SP.

“We are very excited to feed off of the energy of our home crowd,” Berman said. “We are very lucky to play in front of an atmosphere like nowhere else in the country. A part of me is concerned we will be too hyped up for the first 20 minutes. It’s important that we stay focused on the details of our game and maintain an emotional seven, meaning we don’t get too high or too low emotionally.”

The theme for Friday night is a “New Ice Age” white-out. On Saturday night, Wildcat fans are encouraged to bring their own skates and skate post-game with the Wildcats.

The puck drops Friday and Saturday at 7:30 p.m. at the newly renovated Tucson Convention Center Arena.

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