After finishing a nine-game home stand, Arizona hockey travels to play against two unranked ACHA East Coast teams. During the home stand, the Wildcats went 4-5 at the Tucson Convention Center Arena and jumped up one spot in the ACHA Division I rankings to No. 16.
Tonight, No. 16 Arizona will travel to New Jersey to play Rutgers University (3-0-8), followed by a Friday and Saturday night series against Drexel University (9-0-4). The three games will count toward No. 16 Arizona’s (7-0-10) standing in its recently joined Western Collegiate Hockey League.
Last year was the first time Rutgers did not make the national tournament since 2009. This season, the Ice Knights have high expectations and will not settle for anything less than a tournament bid.
Rutgers’ schedule has proved to be one of the toughest since the program has had a Division I men’s ACHA team. Despite their gauntlet of a schedule, the Ice Knights have played extremely well against tough teams.
“Rutgers will be a tough challenge to start on the road,” UA hockey head coach Chad Berman said. “They have played some of the top teams in the country to very close battles, including [ASU], Delaware and Stony Brook.”
In Philadelphia, Arizona will take on the Drexel Dragons.
“I don’t know much about Drexel other than they are a hungry, hard-working team that was able to get a big win against the U.S. Naval Academy,” Berman said. “That Navy team is not an easy team to beat. They have been up and down. But they play a very aggressive, discipline style of hockey that always puts them in a spot to win.”
The Dragons have six players with double-digit points. Marco Gagliardi leads Drexel with 17 points from nine goals and eight assists. Tied with 15 points each are Ryan Williams and John Quigley.
Goalie Zachary Kantner is ranked No. 22 among the entire ACHA goalie leaders with a 93 percent save percentage.
“Since we have a short week of practice, we will be doing high energy and fast-paced drills rather than a lot of X’s and O’s systems,” UA hockey captain Shane Gleason said. “We want to get off to a quick start in the games this weekend, so we want the intensity of our two practices this week to carry over into the first 20 minutes of this weekend’s games.”
The Wildcats usually excel on the penalty kill. Since Arizona plays an aggressive style, the Wildcats are forced to rely heavily on their penalty kill unit throughout the game.
“We need to stay out of the box more each game,” UA hockey player Robbie Wilkinson said. “We’re taking too many penalties. We need [to work] hard on our penalty kill and block more shots and passes. We will work on it in practice and improve for the games.”
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