After several away games, Arizona hockey will finally play its first home game of the season in the Tucson Convention Center Arena.
No. 17 Arizona (4-4-0) has played eight games on the road, traveling to Northern Arizona, Arizona State, Illinois and Ohio.
“I’m ecstatic,” head coach Sean Hogan said. “I don’t know what we’re going to do with all our time.”
The Wildcats are the last team to play a home game and their eight road games are the most in the top 25. Only No. 7 Robert Morris, which has had seven road games, and No. 3 Minot State and No. 13 Davenport, which have each had six, are comparable.
“It’s nice to be settled down and have a consistent week of practice,” senior defenseman Nick Stolz said, “not be traveling for a whole day and being able to get into the zone back home.”
Hogan said he hoped to be 5-3-0 after the road trip, but the Wildcats open a six-game home stand at the TCC.
“When you go around the country and look at all the other facilities, they play in front of … about 1,500 at most,” said assistant coach Dave Dougall. “OU had a nice facility, but that’s about what they seat and mostly it’s students there. You don’t have the community that you have here.”
Arizona averages about 3,000 fans a night, 5,500 for ASU games, and last year’s attendance increased as the season progressed, according to Hogan.
“Our mentality is that we’re really lucky here,” Hogan said.
“There’s nights when we outdraw some of the biggest games in college hockey. They should feel very fortunate and we got to make sure that we compete that way. I think it’s a huge advantage, especially for teams that haven’t been here before.”
Arizona is in the top 25 in attendance in college hockey and the top three for NCAA Division III schools.
Teams that haven’t played before a large crowd, like No. 23 Eastern Michigan, which the UA will face this weekend, are often dazed for the first 10 minutes. Hogan said they need to capitalize on those opening jitters, but he worries that his team, with 11 new players out of the 20 that dress, might suffer as well.
“It’s definitely an advantage. We get a lot of fans out here,” Stolz said. “It’s definitely good for the new rookies. It’s quite an experience. You have the fans supporting you. They’re loud, rambunctious, they have chants.”
Last year, freshman defenseman Nick Hinsberg was able to see a game against ASU during a recruiting trip. Hogan sent him pictures of the arena to try and get him to join the Wildcats.
“It just sounded like a great place to play,” Hinsberg said. “You can’t turn it down once you go down here.”
Arizona has played at the 6,800 seat TCC, also known as “The Madhouse on Main Street,” since 1980-81.
“Most people that haven’t been to a game before, they come back,” Hogan said. “They’re like ‘Wow, this is a pretty cool thing to do.’ It’s cheap. Come out and see a hockey game, drink some beers, go downtown or head back toward the university.”