Arizona Icecats’ silver lining

Mike Schmitz

Take a team with only eight returning players — two seniors, two juniors and four sophomores — and 19 newcomers thrown into collegiate hockey games with extremely limited practice time and never-ending injuries, and you have the 2009-10 Arizona Icecats.

Regardless of the outcome of the team’s season-finale series against ASU on Feb. 26 and 27, the Icecats (12-16) will become only the second team in the 30-year history of UA club hockey program to finish with a losing record.

But records and statistics don’t account for the obstacles the team has faced during the last five months, or the positives that have come from those challenges.

On Oct. 1, 2009, the Icecats opened the season in Tempe against ASU, but everything from pneumonia to swine flu sidelined five key players, forcing 15 freshmen to take on significant roles against a high-powered Sun Devils team.

After the Icecats were shutout 6-0 in that game, head coach Leo Golembiewski said, “”Well, we had 15 baby Icecats born tonight.””

Twenty-seven games later, the injuries haven’t stopped.

But, with those injuries came the chance for Icecats newcomers and freshmen to skate into the spotlight and rise to the occasion. 

Forwards like Brian Slugocki, Adam Treptow and Jeff Back have emerged as constant goal-scoring threats, and defensemen Nick Stoltz, Zack Waxenberg and Shane MacLachlan made a name for themselves on the defensive side of the ice.

Most of that player growth would have never occurred if it weren’t for the constant injuries.

“”Because of the injuries we’ve had, they’ve all gained some experience,”” senior defenseman Zach Cherney said of the freshmen. “”We have some really skilled, young guys.””

Slugocki got his chance in the ASU series, and, after finding the back of the net in game two, he went on to score four goals in the first game of the American Collegiate Hockey Association Showcase one week later.

The freshman sat the bench for his previous team, and associate coach Dave Dougall admitted that the coaching staff didn’t even notice him until the final days of tryouts.

But with his newfound playing time, he burst onto the scene to become the team’s leader in goals, assists and points. 

Stoltz, who said he doubted that he would even make the team during tryouts, made the best of his opportunity to play and emerged this season as one of the team’s best defensive players.

He even showcased his offensive ability two weekends ago with a shootout game-winner in Ogden, Utah, against Weber State.

Goaltender David Herman had the opportunity to play 27 games in his first year as an Icecat. That experience early on should only help the 21-year-old freshman improve between the pipes.

So while the ailments were certainly detrimental to the Icecats’ record and national standing, the injuries forced many “”baby Icecats”” to be born, mature and make a name for themselves around the Tucson Convention Center.

And with only two players leaving due to graduation, the future is bright.

“”Having 15 new freshmen come in, trying to learn a whole new system and stuff like that, it’s been kind of reflective of how the year has went,”” Slugocki said. “”But I’d say definitely in the next couple of years as we become upperclassmen, we’re going to become even better together. We’re just going to grow together as a team and be scary in the future.””

When players and coaches look back at this season, it’s hard for them to feel a sense of accomplishment given the number of losses. But, if you look past the numbers and deeper into the stipulations of the season, a ton of positives came from the Icecats’ 2009-2010 campaign.

A handful of newcomers emerged, several 18-year-old freshmen saw ice time that they wouldn’t have otherwise, and the team is two games away from making it through one of the craziest seasons in recent years.

“”I’ve definitely learned a lot about myself as a player,”” Slugocki said. “”And I would say a lot of guys have too. The guys who have really come into their game are going to step up in the next couple of years and become great college hockey players here.””

— Mike Schmitz is a pre-buisness sophomore. He can be reached at

sports@wildcat.arizona.edu.