UA Hockey set to face Liberty in top 25 matchup

The No. 18 Arizona Wildcats (1-0-0) will fly to Lynchburg, Va., to face the No. 7 Liberty Flames (4-0-1) in a two-game series starting on Friday.

Last season, the Wildcats were 1-3 against the Flames.

“Since we have had a lot less practice time than other teams, there is a lot we still need to improve on,” UA head coach Chad Berman said. “Our defensive zone coverage must get tighter, our neutral zone-four check needs to be more controlled and our back checking pace needs to be faster. We want to be the best defensive team in the country, so our backpressure will be crucial through the neutral zone.”

Liberty opened league play against No. 12 Naval Academy by splitting two games. Leading the Flames this season is freshman Luke Simon with six goals. Forward Luke Hannon and defenseman Matt Sherry both have four goals.

During Arizona’s season opener, the Wildcats dominated NAU and won 8-2 on Saturday night. Freshman forward Alex Nespor scored five goals against the Ice Jacks. Alex Vazquez, Jason Effertz and Shane Gleason all scored one goal at NAU.

“Last weekend, we had a lot of positives and it was great to see some of our new guys get their first game in and gain some confidence,” captain Shane Gleason said.

UA sophomore goalie Garrett Patrick had 24 saves on 26 shots against NAU. UA redshirt junior goalie Dylan Hojnacki will likely start at least one of the games this weekend. However, Berman has yet to define who the actual weekly starter between the pipes will be for the Wildcats.

Arizona looks to continue its penalty kill success this weekend. So far, opposing teams haven’t scored during their power play opportunities and the Wildcats are 4-for-4 on killing penalties.

“We are a well-balanced, tight-knit group that will be successful because of our depth and commitment to each other,” Berman said. “We intend to come at teams in relentless waves of pressure.”

This season, Arizona has suffered from limited ice time due to construction at the Tucson Convention Center. Its first home game will not be until October 24.

“The only benefit of riding a bus an hour and forty minutes to practice is it keeps us all together and has helped [us] to gel earlier than most teams,” Berman said. “I am a big believer that for everything bad in life, there is a silver lining. I believe we will be a close group that will stick together when times get tough because of this experience.”

The puck will drop in LaHaye Ice Center Friday at 7 p.m. and Saturday at 3 p.m. Both games will be streamed live on ESPN3.

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Follow Zoe Wolkowitz on Twitter @ zowolko


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