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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

Arizona Wildcats hockey eyes return to glory

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Kyle Wasson / Arizona Daily Wildcat

After six years of being on the outside looking in, the Arizona hockey team is ready to return to nationals.

The Wildcats used to be a fixture at the American Collegiate Hockey Association National Tournament. From 1983 to 2003, Arizona never finished lower than eighth at the national tournament, but since then the team has only made it to the big dance once, in 2005-06.

“That’s the only thing we want to do, is get there,” captain Brian Slugocki said. “Especially for us seniors, that’s the only thing on our mind and we’re going to do whatever it takes to get there.

“My freshman and sophomore year we relied on two or three guys to get all the points but now we have seven, eight, nine guys who can score on every night and will score on every night.”

Slugocki said the Wildcats no longer have to worry about players on the penalty kill or power play lines losing the puck.

“There’s just a lot more confidence for me looking down on the younger players because I know they’ve got the skill to get the job done,” Slugocki said.

Arizona returns three of its top five scorers, including junior forward Andrew Murmes, who had a team-best 52 points in 33 games. Senior forward Jared Lowell had 27 points and Slugocki had 24 points.

“I think we have a good group of veterans for leadership and I think it will be critical with that many new guys,” head coach Sean Hogan said of the Wildcats’ 11 newcomers. “It definitely should be a year where we take big steps forward.”

This is the first recruiting class for second year coach Hogan, as his hire was too late last year to take part in recruiting.

“This is definitely the best we’ve had since I’ve been here, definitely the most depth,” senior defenseman Zack Waxenberg said.

“Coach Hogan did a good job of bringing in a lot of good recruits.”

Last year the Wildcats were close to nationals with a 13-18-3 record, finishing ranked No. 25 and No. 16 in the computer rankings. Spots in the tournament are determined by the polls, the first of which will be released Friday.

“This [Tuesday] is just our first day of on ice practice but I feel more prepared for the season than I have for any of the three years so far,” Waxenberg said.

College hockey blog thankyouterry.blogspot.com listed the UA as the No. 1 thing to watch in the ACHA Division 1, saying about Hogan and the Wildcats, “In his second year in charge, he’ll attempt to navigate a daunting schedule worthy of the Icecats’ glory days with an roster that, on paper anyway, won’t give up much to their opponents.”

“We’re definitely more deep than we were last year for sure, we should be able to get scoring from more than one or two lines,” Hogan said.

The Wildcats lost senior forward Brady Lefferts, forward Blake Richards, defenseman Geordy Weed and defenseman Jonathan Watanabe.

Lefferts and Weed were assistant captains, Lefferts was second in scoring with 50 points, Richards was third with 30 points and Lefferts and Watanabe starred for a North American all-star team over the summer.

“We’ll miss all those guys,” Hogan said. “All those guys brought something special to the program. They were a big reason that we had some success last year.”

The Wildcats face a tough schedule that includes a month long road trip to start the season. All but 10 of their 38 games are against ACHA Division I teams that last year ranked in the top 15.

“I think it will be a huge help,” Waxenberg said. “In the past we did not even play enough DI games to go to nationals and now we have as good a schedule as anybody in the league,. We play all the top teams, all national competitors and I think we have as good a chance as anyone to go to nationals with the team and depth that we have.”

Nine of Arizona’s 11 transfers were recruited and two made the team through tryouts. Highlighting the newcomers are transfers junior forward Ansel Ivens-Anderson from NCAA Division I New Hampshire, sophomore forward Jason Effertz from NCAA UMass-Dartmouth and sophomore defenseman Matt Nowicki from ACHA Davenport University.

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