Arizona hockey will end the semester by playing the team it faced to start the season, Northern Arizona University. The Wildcats beat the Ice Jacks on the road to open the season with scores of 7-3 and 4-2.
The No. 17 Wildcats (10-9-0) host the Division II Ice Jacks (14-4-0) on Friday and Saturday at 7:30 p.m. at the Tucson Convention Center.
Despite its status as a Division II team, Arizona coach Sean Hogan is impressed with what NAU has done on the ice.
“They’re doing really well at the Division II level. I think they have two losses this semester to Division II teams,” Hogan said.
“They’re going to be a strong opponent and they’ve come a long way in a short period of time.”
NAU’s only losses to teams in its division are a 4-3 loss at Colorado State, which will move to Division I next year, and a 5-3 loss to ASU’s Division II squad last week.
Part of what makes NAU such a tough opponent is its aggressive mentality.
“They’re a physical team, they’re very physical,” Hogan said.
NAU is No. 2 in the west Division II rankings, with four of 11 first place votes.
“They were our first games of the year so we weren’t really good, we just had that one week of practice,” Hogan said. “It wasn’t great from our end, but it was their first games as well.”
Because of construction delays at their home arena, the Wildcats were only able to begin practicing a few days before the series.
“We’ve definitely come a long way since then,” senior forward Jared Lowell said. “Our performance is going to be a lot better on Friday and Saturday.”
The last time NAU played in Tucson, two years ago, it upset Arizona 5-4.
According to NAUicejacks.com, former UA head coach Leo Golembiewski was so upset about the Wildcats’ loss in 2011, “he refused to speak with the media and he refused to schedule any games with NAU the following season [last season].”
Lowell said they haven’t talked to the underclassmen about it.
“At least half the team wasn’t here then, but the guys who are I’m sure don’t want to give them the opportunity again,” Lowell said.
The Wildcats will also stage their first “Teddy Bear Toss” on Saturday, presented by NOVA Home Loans. Fans are encouraged to bring a new, unwrapped teddy bear or stuffed animal to throw onto the ice after the Wildcats’ first goal.
Hogan thinks it will take about 15 to 20 minutes to pick up the bears, but they won’t warm up again.
“It’s part of the charade, part of the circus,” Hogan said.