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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    “As injuries mount, Icecats’ reserves showing their value”

    Arizona forward Brandon Robinson circles the puck during a 5-3 Icecats win against Adrian College on Jan. 25 in the Tucson Convention Center. Robinson isnt normally looked to as a scorer, but several injuries to key players has allowed him to become an offensive threat over the course of the last five games.
    Arizona forward Brandon Robinson circles the puck during a 5-3 Icecats’ win against Adrian College on Jan. 25 in the Tucson Convention Center. Robinson isn’t normally looked to as a scorer, but several injuries to key players has allowed him to become an offensive threat over the course of the last five games.

    The UA club hockey team has endured one of the toughest seasons of the team’s 30-year existence with its 9-12-2 record this year. Whether it was losing key players, losing due to questionable officiating, or simply finding ways to lose when playing well, the Icecats could finish below the .500 mark for only the second time in their history.

    Everything that could possibly go wrong, has.

    “”We’ve been going through a lot with injuries and ineligibility,”” senior goaltender Nick Boddy said after a 4-0 shutout win against ASU on Saturday. “”Just pretty much everything has gone against us.””

    In a season in which the Icecats returned their top goal-scorers in seniors Matt Conover and Robbie Nowinski, as well as Boddy, the postseason seemed to be a strong possibility, considering the personnel.

    But as the season progressed, the losses began to mount both on and off the ice. Conover has only been able to play in 12 games due to a nagging, sprained left knee he injured during the season-opening trip at the American Collegiate Hockey Association Hockey Showcase Tournament in West Chester, Penn. Throughout most of those 12 games, it was obvious that Conover was never at full strength, despite numerous attempts to return to the ice.

    “”It’s at least 50 points we’ve lost and he will be a top-20 scorer, all-time, despite not playing a full four years,”” said UA head coach Leo Golembiewski. “”The loss is immeasurable.””

    With the team at 6-9-1, the Icecats seemed poised for a great second half of the season due to fact that they finished the 2007-08 season by winning 11 of its last 12 games after winter break. But before the Icecats could even start to think about a repeat of last year, more losses were on the way. Prior to the second half of the season, the team received news that forward Cody Morin and defenseman Nick Bach would be academically ineligible for the rest of the season.

    Despite the losses, the team went on to sweep Saint Louis on Jan. 9 and 10, and started the second half of the season with a three-game winning streak.

    But again, bad news returned.

    During the first period of the Jan. 17 contest against Michigan State, the Icecats’ second-leading scorer, Jordan Schupan, left the ice holding his right arm. It turned out that Schupan had dislocated his shoulder and would miss 2-3 weeks – not to mention, the Icecats ended up losing the game after having a 4-1 lead.

    In a season in which players on the third – and sometimes fourth – line struggled to get on the ice, those same players were needed more than ever in order for the team to have any success in the final 10 games.

    With six games left in the season, the Icecats still have a chance to finish the season with a winning record, despite starting the season 3-7-1. Arizona has played some of its best hockey in the last five games, with their best game coming in the 4-0 destruction of ASU on Saturday.

    During that time, players such as forwards Brandon Robinson and Brady Lefferts have taken advantage of their opportunities in the absence of key players.

    Robinson, a senior from La Mesa, Calif., saw very little ice time in the beginning of the season but has had an impact during the last five games. Robinson is known as a player who does the dirty work, which was proven in a late-game win against Adrian College on Jan. 25, when he made a diving effort to get the puck to Drew Halliday in the front of the net, for the game-winning goal in the last two minutes.

    “”In the past years I was more of a grinder. … I was expected to get out in the corners and work my butt off to get to try to get the puck to someone to put it in the net,”” Robinson said. “”This year, with Conover and Shupan out, I’ve been looked upon to score more.””

    Robinson generally isn’t thought of as a prolific goal-scorer. However, he has scored three goals in the last five games, including a two-goal game against the Sun Devils on Saturday.

    “”It was pretty rough coming into my last year, coming off an injury my junior year,”” Robinson said, referring to missing the second half of last year with a deep thigh bruise.

    “”Once I saw my chances to kind of crack my way back into the lineup, I tried to take advantage of it,”” he added. “”As of late, against Arizona State for some reason, I’ve been able to capitalize on my opportunities.””

    Lefferts, a freshman, has also continued to make progress in the last five games as his playing time increases. Lefferts has scored a goal in each of the last two games and brings another scoring threat alongside Nowinski.

    “”I think the major thing with Lefferts is that he’s talented, young hockey player,”” Golembiewski said. “”Brady has certainly done a great job in playing alongside Nowinski.””

    Though Lefferts has played in all the team’s games this season, it wasn’t until key players were lost that he saw significant playing time.

    “”In the beginning of the year I wasn’t playing as much. It was really hard to get my legs moving after sitting for so long, and you lose a lot of speed,”” Lefferts said. “”Once I’ve been out there more often, I’ve been more in the flow and that has made me play better.””

    The freshman said players and coaches told him they’re looking for him to keep picking up the slack on offense until Schupan is healthy enough to return to the lineup.

    If the UA expects to finish the season with a winning record, it will be crucial for Robinson and Lefferts to continue to produce the way they have recently.

    “”It would be huge for not only this season,”” Lefferts said, “”but to build on next season on a winning note.””

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