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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

Culture change brings new era of ice hockey

The Arizona Wildcats have a university-affiliated club hockey team for the first time after players decided to cut ties with the Icecats and former coach and general manager Leo Golembiewski. The move makes the newly-branded Wildcats officially part of the university as a club recognized and funded by UA’s Department of Campus Recreation.

“I’m extremely happy with what is going on right now,” said senior forward Blake Richards. “I couldn’t be more thrilled, and I think we are extremely lucky in getting (new coach Sean) Hogan. I honestly couldn’t be any more happy with what’s going on.”

This enthusiasm was also mirrored by junior forward Brian Slugocki.

“I’m ecstatic, really,” Slugocki said. “Like I said, it’s night and day (compared to where they were). We are going to be a national contending team for the next however many years with Coach Hogan, and the sky is the limit with this program now.”

Of course, the changes weren’t exactly clean or easy for the new Wildcats. Golembiewski founded the Icecats in 1979 and led the school to 634 wins as one of the founding members of the American Collegiate Hockey Association in 1991, the league that the Wildcats will remain in.

However, things in the last few seasons were not quite as successful. That included two seasons without wins against rival ASU and no recent national tournament appearances.

“We weren’t seeing the success that we knew we could have,” said senior defenseman Geordy Weed. “We have a bunch of talent on the team and it wasn’t being used to its fullest extent. You could see the frustration on everybody’s (face).”

Right after the season ended, players began talking about changing the direction of the program, according to Richards. Five players met with on-campus officials to discuss becoming an official school club and replacing the coach.

“The whole team was talking about it, but it really took a couple of us to go into the school and really see if this is possible,” Slugocki said. “We did all the necessary steps, we followed everything, we did it the way it is supposed to be done.”

As senior forward Brady Lefferts said the decision wasn’t made by just the five players.

“It was a whole team decision,” said Lefferts. “As with anything, you need representatives, but it was a team decision. We wanted to become more affiliated with the university and we also wanted to be more competitive.”

“Those two aspects really led the entire team to want some change.”

That change resulted in the birth of Arizona Wildcat hockey and the disassociation with Golembiewski, who was the face of Icecats for over three decades. His duties are filled by 33-year-old Sean Hogan, who was born only a year prior to the formation of the Icecats.

However, the players are in no way reluctant about the radical changes the team has undergone.

“The work ethic, that has definitely gone up,” Weed said. “Kids come to practice and actually want to be there now.”

Slugocki felt the same way about the new culture under Hogan.

Hogan brings with him championship experience, as he won two National Championships in the ACHA with Oakland University, something that Golembiewski and the Icecats were never able to do. Hogan also was an assistant at the NCAA Division I level for Western Michigan University.

“We all have so much confidence in what he is teaching us,” Lefferts said. “He also instills that confidence in us during drills. We all know that what he is teaching us works, and that it’s going to work. We just have to put in the effort to perfect our systems.”

Things aren’t entirely different for the rebranded Wildcats, though. They still play at the Tucson Convention Center, they are still in the ACHA and they still have assistant coach Dave Dougall, who has been with the program for six seasons.

Still, this season marks the first time that a hockey team will officially wear the school’s Block A across their chest.

Now, the Wildcats look to Friday, when they’ll play their first game as a university club team against the Sun Devils and use it as a building block for the new era of Arizona hockey.

“The work ethic that we have now is unbelievable,” Slugocki said. “We are pretty much running … like a Division I team. You can tell in the locker room, you can tell on the ice that everyone wants to work hard, and everyone is battling out there. There are no excuses anymore.”

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