Wildcats take back the Cactus Cup in dominant fashion
For the second time in as many games the Arizona men's hockey team dismantled in-state rival ASU, beating the Sun Devils 6-1 at the Tucson Convention Center and securing the Cactus Cup by winning the season series on Saturday.
“It feels unbelievable, I’m speechless. Our freshman year we lost eight games in a row to these guys," defensemen Orion Olsen said. "We lost a lot of games to this team but we kept fighting and stuck to it throughout the years. We got a team now that took it to ‘em and it feels great.”
The ‘Cats played the Sun Devils both Friday and Saturday night coming out on top in both games. Emotions were running high with chippy play starting very early in the game. The previous game ended with a brawl between both teams and it was evident tempers were still running hot.
Arizona forward Ethan Stahlhuth got things going with the first goal of the game. Stahlhuth had the puck with little pressure behind him and with a flick of the wrist put the ‘Cats up 1-0. After about 10 minutes without a goal from either side, Arizona’s Griffin Dyne put the ‘Cats up 2-0 with a hard one-timer. By the end of the first the score remained 2-0 Arizona.
The second period brought a pair of goals for the Wildcats as their hot streak continued. With a little more than 12 minutes left in the 2nd period Josh Larson buried the puck in the net for the ‘Cat’s third goal of the night. Less than five minutes later Tyler Griffith scored for the ‘Cats making it 4-0 Arizona.
Tempers started to flare and both teams got more physical as penalties were handed out left and right. Arizona State got their first goal on the board with a power play goal with 2:48 left in the second to make it 4-1 Arizona.
Another goal for Arizona came by way of Justin Plumhoff in a power play goal to make it 5-1 and then things got heated on the ice. A stoppage in front of the Arizona bench led to a pile up of players. Larson and Trey Decker were both ejected from the game for the Wildcats. Despite the banter, the Wildcats never slowed down, continuing to pour on to the Sun Devils as Josh Dickison scored the sixth and final goal making it 6-1 Arizona, with just over two minutes left in the game.
“This is a heated rivalry, it’s been going on forever. It’s a playoff atmosphere and a big stage for us," Arizona defensemen Sean Ozment said.
It was a special night in more than one way for Arizona. The Wildcats also retired the jersey of UA hockey legend Kelly Walker. Walker played for the ‘Cats from 1989-1992 winning the team M.V.P three out of his four years on the team. He holds the UA single season scoring record with over 100 points and is the ACHA Division 1 all-time leader in points and assists. Walker’s number 16 jersey was officially retired during Saturday’s game with a ceremony honoring Walker who was in attendance. His jersey was the first Arizona hockey jersey to ever be retired.
Before Saturday’s game the team also hosted the annual alumni game. Senior Tyler Griffith commented on what it was like to have those alumni back in town.
“You can see all the passion in the alumni that were here. All of us felt it from them and it kind of drove us through the weekend. It’s really nice to do it for them and have the [Cactus Cup] back in our room,” Griffith said.
The Wildcats have a break in their schedule for almost a month now and will return to the TCC on January 5th. Arizona will play a two-game series against Grand Canyon University. The team says they will use that time to rest and recover after a strong but brutal start to the season.
“We went through hell to get to this point. I’m thinking about the seniors, we have 30-year season ticket holders, so I’m thinking about them," Arizona head coach Chad Berman said. "This job’s tough it’s demanding so I just wanted this for them and for everybody, it takes a lot to get to this.”