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Underdog Icecats look for respect

By Dan Komyati
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Wednesday Feb. 27, 2002

After spending a season fighting for national respect, an underdog Icecats team begins its quest today to knock off some of the nation's elite American Collegiate Hockey Association teams.

The ACHA national tournament gets underway this afternoon in Towson, Md., when No. 11 UA faces No. 2 Delaware.

The Icecats will face No. 7 Illinois tomorrow to conclude pool play in the tournament's preliminary round.

The 12-team tournament consists of four pools with three teams each. The team with the best record from each pool advances (a tie is decided by best goal differential) and moves on to Saturday's semifinal.

With six seniors striving to reach their first Final Four, UA will have to put two of its season's best efforts together in order to finish at the top of its bracket.

"I think the team is excited to get there," senior co-captain Kevin Meehan said. "We look at our bracket and these are teams we know we can play with."

The Icecats have already faced off this season with two teams who are also making the trip to Towson.

A month ago, UA topped No. 12 Drexel 5-4 in overtime during its only other East Coast swing of the season. Several weeks prior to that, the Icecats battled No. 1 Penn State in two close losses, 4-3 and 3-0.

The Icecats outshot and outplayed the ACHA's top-ranked team during portions of that weekend, and reminded head coach Leo Golembiewski of what his team needs to do to play its best.

"We know the key to the championship tournament is playing two-way hockey," Golembiewski said. "We have to backcheck and the bottom line is we cannot be outworked.

"We're kind of keying on defensive matchups and making sure there's no running around in our own zone."

When play begins today, it will mark the 20th consecutive season that Golembiewski's program has reached the national tournament - the longest current streak in the ACHA.

The Icecats' first and only national championship came in 1985, and the last time UA reached a Final Four was 1997.

Little was expected from a very young Icecats squad this season. Yet, after a 22-4-1 campaign, the tight-knit group of seniors is ready to make their last trip to nationals a memorable one.

"We'll definitely go in there with a lot of confidence and hopefully take those first two games and go on to the next round," senior co-captain Kyle Neary said. "Everyone you talk to says that this is one of the best draws we could have gotten in the tournament."

Golembiewski has lauded the work ethic and togetherness of his squad all season long.

He has to look no further than his senior leader Meehan for the effort he hopes his entire team will leave on the ice this week.

Only five days after returning from season-threatening knee surgery, the co-captain will put everything on the line today in hopes of surprising the ACHA one more time this season.

"I'm just gonna go out there and play my heart out," Meehan said. "And hopefully, 20 other guys will do the same."


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