With more talented opponents on the horizon for Arizona hockey, this season will be a far cry from last year’s schedule, which was done before head coach Sean Hogan arrived and was lacking in dynamic match-ups.
“When I was hired, one of the first things they wanted to do was upgrade the schedule,” Hogan said. “We wanted to play teams that were at our caliber or above. You’re not going to see what we’ve had before, like the 16-nothing blowout and things like that.”
All but 10 of their 38 games are against American Collegiate Hockey Association Division I teams that last year ranked in the top 15. UA plays eight games against arch-rival ASU, four at home and four in Tempe.
“It’s a tough schedule, it’s probably the toughest one I’ve played here in my four years,” UA captain Brian Slugocki said. “That’s what it takes to get to nationals, you have to beat the best teams to prove that you are one of the best teams.”
Unlike in previous years, when the schedule included games against Division II teams, this year the Wildcats only play three: NAU, San Diego State and Williston State.
“Most of the teams have been to nationals and they’re all top ranked teams,” senior defenseman Zack Waxenberg said.
Last year the Wildcats manhandled Texas, beating the Longhorns by a combined score of 26-0 in two games, later going on to win against Weber State 12-0 and 10-2.
Slugocki said the blowouts were fun, but the effortless schedule was a big reason for the coaching change from Leo Golembiewski, who founded UA hockey in 1979.
“I’ve said it before, playing those games where it’s 15-1, it’s fun, but you don’t get anything out of those games,” Slugocki said. “In the past, we didn’t even play enough teams to make it to the national tournament. That’s one of the top three things we wanted, and now that we have it, we’re looking forward to this year.”
The college hockey blog, thankyouterry.blogspot.com, said that “the once-proud Icecats program regressed from one of the ACHA’s elites to a de facto Division II team that plays Arizona State sometimes,” when Golembiewski’s tenure ended.
“This is everything I wanted, all top teams,” Waxenberg said of the new schedule. “We can’t really take the night off and it’s going to be really competitive, and I’m just looking forward to getting the season started.”
UA will start the season on the road for a month, traveling to NAU, ASU, Illinois and Ohio before their home opener on Oct. 26 against Eastern Michigan.
Next, the Wildcats will host ASU Nov. 2, then Oakland on Nov. 9, a date Hogan has no doubt circled due to his close relationship with Jeremy Bachusz, the Grizzlies’ head coach. Oakland was the 2011-2012 ACHA Division I national runner-up and Hogan won two national championships as a coach there.
On Nov. 30, San Diego State comes to town. The SDS team is coached by former Wildcat star goaltender Dennis Hands.
There will be theme nights, like Military Appreciation weekend during the games against EMU, and a white out night during the game against ASU.
Arizona’s other road trips are to Oklahoma City, to play the Sooners and Central Oklahoma, to Liberty in Virginia and to North Dakota to play Williston State and Minot State. UA also hosts the Oklahoma schools, Liberty and the North Dakota schools.
Season opener: Sept. 21 @ NAU
Home opener: Oct. 27 vs. Eastern Michigan