Arizona hockey defeats Ice Bears 4-1 to live another day in the ACHA National Tournament
Despite the odds against them after going 1-2 against Missouri State in the regular season, Arizona pulled off a decisive 4-1 victory, earning itself another day in Columbus, Ohio.
"It's [the emotion of the game; it's] hard to explain," head coach Chad Berman said in a post-game interview with the team's media personnel. "Our guys battled so hard. Our seniors played for their lives there. We had shot blocks —
guys who don't normally block shots diving in front — just battling and grinding."
The effort came from all areas of the ice; every Wildcat played as hard as the next. Despite it being the team's first tournament, the freshmen played like it was their last.
Freshman Anthony Cusanelli scored what would be the game winner on a screened spin move that slipped five-hole in the third period. Head coach Chad Berman applauded Cusanelli for his work, but especially his heart, after battling through an ankle injury that had him sit out the last two regular season games against UNLV.
"The kid's [Cusanelli] got a lot of heart, that's for sure," Berman said.
Josh Larson, a sophomore by credits but a fresh face to the Wildcats, started off the scoring for the Wildcats for the 2018 tournament with a slapper from the wide-open, high slot.
His goal stood as the only one on the board until Cusanelli's tally, and an impressive move by MSU's Travis Barrett in the third.
Missouri State was Arizona's first win, and one of five if they wish to take the ACHA championship back home to Tucson.
But the road won't be easy.
Arizona's next opponent is the No. 1 Minot State who finished the season 36-2 with one shootout loss. The 'Cats are ranked No. 16 in the country and could complete quite the upset were they to beat the Beavers. Neither teams faced off against one another during the regular season.
Despite the gap in rankings, Arizona has the upper hand when it comes to their leading point-getters.
Minot State's leading scorer was Johl Swedlo with 42 points (18-24) through 37 games. Arizona's Cusanelli finished the season with 51 points (30-21) through 31 games. the 'Cats have a total of three players who got over the 30 points mark (Ethan Stahlhuth finished with 29), while the Beavers have four, so there's not too large of a gap.
Stats and previous standings won't matter when the two teams take to the ice tomorrow night at the Ice Haus, the practice facility of the Columbus Blue Jackets, at 8 p.m. EST. The game will be streamed on the ACHA National Championship YouTube channel.
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