The Student News Site of University of Arizona

The Daily Wildcat

95° Tucson, AZ

The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

Arizona hockey hopes goal of reaching tournament will soon be expectation

Arizona+hockey+hopes+goal+of+reaching+tournament+will+soon+be+expectation

In early December, the No. 21 Arizona hockey program looked to be finally hitting its stride after beating then-No. 7 Oklahoma and then-No. 6 Ohio in consecutive games. The Wildcats were on course to make the national tournament for the first time since 2006.

But after their dramatic home victory over Ohio, the wheels came off. Arizona has gone 4-9-2 since and its only victories have been against Division II opponents.

The worst part of it, according to head coach Sean Hogan, is that the last several losses have been in close games with top-ranked teams. Only two of the seven consecutive losses came by more than one goal.

Once the team lost its second straight game to No. 7 Minot State in early February — its eighth defeat in nine games — senior Blake Richards said it finally sunk in that its playoff hopes were done.

While Hogan was disappointed with the lack of wins the team had down the stretch, he said it was still just part of the growing pains under a completely new system.

“We talked about it early in the year, we’re trying to change the culture here,” Hogan said. “Part of that culture change is teaching players what it takes to win and how to win. Not winning for a little while sometimes wears down on you, and we’re learning that process. We’re learning what it takes to be successful.”

The Wildcats’ late season schedule ended up being a double-edged sword. The tough competition — Minot State, No. 4 ASU and No. 14 Davenport — offered the Wildcats an opportunity to boost their tournament resume and make a statement come selection time. But the schedule that was once full of potential ended up becoming nothing more than a string of close losses to highly ranked opponents.

Still, both Hogan and Richards said they see the tough schedule as a way to legitimacy, even if it proved fatal this season.

“Just from a year ago we’ve started playing much better teams and we’re competing at a high level,” Richards said. “We’ve shown that we can compete with those teams, and the program isn’t here just to be here, we are actually trying to compete now. It’s a turning point for sure, and hopefully next year it can be built upon.”

At times it looked as if the Wildcats might be able to pull out an impressive victory and make a final push for the tournament, but as in their last-minute defeat in overtime to Davenport, crucial mistakes late in games ended up spelling doom for Arizona.

“You have to be mentally strong throughout, and sometimes it’s easy to be lax in the last minute of a period,” Richards said. “Sometimes that can really kill the momentum.”

Despite the lackluster finish, Hogan said he has seen progress this season, and with ASU coming to Tucson this weekend, the Wildcats are looking to end their 22-game winless streak against the Sun Devils in their own version of the national championship game.

“At some point, making the playoffs is going to be the expectation and winning the national championship is going to be the goal,” Hogan said. “And that’s what we wanted to do in year one. We fell short of that and didn’t make the national tournament, and that’s frustrating.”

More to Discover
Activate Search