By Brett Fera
CHRIS CODUTO/Arizona Daily Wildcat
Senior Icecat Matt Naylor skates away from a defender last weekend against Arizona State. The Icecats currently ride a 14-game win streak and hope to extend their fortunes this week in Ohio.
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Thursday February 27, 2003
No. 6 hockey to challenge top ACHA teams in Ohio for national championship
Their season may have started nearly four months ago and spanned 27 games, but everything pushed aside, the Icecats know they still have a job to do.
The team that put desert hockey on the map seems poised to put forth one more weekend of championship-caliber hockey and make a run for the ACHA national tournament crown.
The No. 6 Icecats (23-4) head to Athens, Ohio, ready to make a claim on the title that has eluded them for 17 seasons since their first and only championship in 1985.
Head coach Leo Golembiewski said he thinks this team is more capable of winning it all than any he has coached since then.
"We've broken it down to (the team) as two Fridays and two Saturdays," Golembiewski said. "They have to get past the first set, Thursday and Friday, to reach the second set."
UA opens pool play tonight in the midst of a 14-game win streak, including victories in 19 of its last 20 heading into the tournament. While not losing in two months, the coaches said they know that any team in the field is capable of winning it all.
"Mental preparation is so important heading into a tournament like this; I can't stress that enough to the team," Golembiewski said. "Drexel has been hot lately and Illinois deserves the No. 1 ranking, but once the tournament starts, everything gets thrown right out the window."
Pool play began last night, but the Icecats drew a bye for the first day of competition.
In pool A, top-seeded Illinois downed No. 12 Saint Louis, 6-4 yesterday. No. 8 Drexel will play St. Louis today and Illinois tomorrow.
No. 2 Penn State dropped No. 11 Eastern Michigan, 8-3, in pool B. No. 7 Iowa State will take on Eastern Michigan tonight and Penn State tomorrow.
In pool C, No. 3 Minot State defeated No. 10 Towson, 4-1. No. 6 Delaware faces Towson tonight and Minot State tomorrow.
No. 4 Ohio, the tournament's host, dropped No. 9 Michigan-Dearborn last night, 5-4. No. 5 UA rounds out pool D.
Defending champion Penn State has been perched atop the ACHA for three straight seasons, but they head into the tournament as only the No. 2 seed after falling twice last month to top-seeded Illinois. The Icers also dropped their last game of the season to St. Clair college of Ontario, Canada, leaving Penn State's dominance as a question mark heading into the start of pool play.
Despite knowing they were already seeded No. 5 for the tournament for nearly two weeks, the team was able to stay focused during its final series last weekend against Arizona State. Arizona swept the Sun Devils 5-4 and 5-1.
The Icecats face off against Michigan-Dearborn tonight at 5:30 before taking on host Ohio tomorrow. The four pool winners will reach the semifinals, set for Saturday. The championship game is set for Sunday afternoon.