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The Daily Wildcat

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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

Arizona hockey having success after drastic off-season change

The Arizona hockey team’s offseason was anything but easy.

The newly rebranded Wildcats entered the season with the pressure of validating the decision to leave Leo Golembiewski, the program’s founder and head coach of 32 years, and also to quickly learn new head coach Sean Hogan’s systems with little time for error.

But despite those issues, the UA has finished the first half of the season ranked No. 18 in the American Collegiate Hockey Association poll and has a winning record at 11-9-1, significantly improving from last season’s losing record.

“It’s just a complete 180 from what we had in the past, and I couldn’t be happier with the team,” said captain Brian Slugocki, adding that he’s excited with the direction the team is headed and how everything was resolved.

But the team’s current success hasn’t been consistent throughout the season, and signs of the radical changes were clear during the early parts of the schedule.

The Wildcats opened the season by losing both games against now-No. 3 ASU, in Tempe. After winning only one of three games at the ACHA Showcase — a victory over now-unranked Michigan-Dearborn — the season was going downhill quickly.

But then the UA beat now-No. 7 Iowa State on the road and played well in a close loss the following night. That momentum kept building with a series of games against several cupcakes at home, a streak that saw the Wildcats record a 237-minute shutout streak and outscore their opponents 47-0.

“Everybody has been learning a new game, new systems, and it was nice seeing it in action,” assistant captain Geordy Weed said.

Since that stretch, the Wildcats have hovered around .500, beating several top teams during that time and avoiding letdowns against lesser competition.

The team has shown the ability to beat top ranked teams, a trait that may prove beneficial come tournament selection time. In addition to winning road contests against Iowa State and now-No. 8 Oklahoma, Arizona also beat now-No. 5 Ohio in Tucson.

“Those three games are huge momentum builders,” forward Andrew Murmes said. “They show us that if we do play the way we can play, we can beat anybody.”

But Arizona still hasn’t gotten over the hump against ASU, losing all four contests against its rival by a combined score of 22-11. Still, there’s a chance of redemption with four games remaining.

“Our goal is to win all four of those games,” assistant captain Brady Lefferts said. “It starts up at their barn at the end of the month, we already have those games circled.”

But even with UA’s struggles against ASU, its No. 18 ranking puts it right on the cusp of the national tournament, as the top 20 teams are invited. If the Wildcats are able to make it this year, it would be the first tournament appearance for everyone on the roster.

“It would be great for the school, especially because it is a brand new team,” Weed said. “Everybody has worked so hard this year.”

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