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Icecat coach vies for 500

By Brett Fera
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Friday January 17, 2003

The Arizona Icecats are used to winning and are always ready to add another victory to their total. That goes without saying.

But when the No. 7 ranked unit faces off with No. 20 Robert Morris College (Ill.) tonight, the desire to bring home a victory in this game ÷÷ more than almost any other ÷÷ will come out in full force, as the team has a chance to be a part of history.

Twenty-four seasons. Six hundred and sixty-two games. One team. One coach. One incredible milestone.

Tonight at the Tucson Convention Center, the Icecats, led by long-time head coach Leo Golembiewski, look to add yet another page to the story of Icecat hockey ÷÷ the page marking Golembiewski's 500th career victory.

"When you and the people around you are on a mission, it doesn't come up," said Golembiewski, in regard to reaching the milestone win total.

Golembiewski, a former goaltender before his coaching stint, started coaching high school hockey in Chicago after his playing career concluded, ultimately settling on Tucson as a place to push along his dream to starting a college hockey program.

"My wife Paula and I have been together for 25 years, and I fell in love with Tucson in the mid-70s," Golembiewski said. "I realized that this was the place to attempt to start up the program."

The coach first arrived at the university in 1977, and took courses toward his master's degree. After talking to members of the faculty, he decided to start laying groundwork for an ice hockey program.

The team started play in 1979, with Golembiewski bringing 10 players along from his coaching days in Chicago and giving the team a talented foundation. Working jobs at a local ice rink, along with landscaping and painting on the side during the summer, Golembiewski was determined to get the team off the ground and create a competitive hockey program in the western United States.

"I wanted to start a college program with the proof that Americans could play the game," Golembiewski said. "The most important thing is that kids want to come play here and that we've had a pretty consistent hockey team for so many years."

During their first two seasons, the Icecats were unable to play any home games, yet in just six short years, they picked up their first national championship.

Since then, the team has reached 20 straight ACHA national tournaments, along with eight Final Four appearances during the span. Because of the vision of Golembiewski and the perseverance to create a successful program from scratch, the Icecats are now considered among the best of the best across the nation.

Despite continually drawing a high fan-base and a strong level of talent to the team, the Icecats are still a club sport, not recognized by the NCAA or funded in any way by the university.

Perhaps the thing that makes the coach most proud of his tenure is the fact that there are student-athletes from 17 different states currently on the Icecat roster.

"Back then, it was primarily a Canadian game," Golembiewski added. "I wanted to start this program and give the chance for American kids to play hockey and build something special."

Associate coach Brian Meehan agreed with his mentor's sentiments, noting that he and his brothers (current graduate assistant Kevin and current Icecat forward Mickey) all came out to Tucson to play for a winning program, traveling halfway across the country from their hometown of Skokie, Illinois.

"Players come here simply because it's quality hockey," Meehan said. "All these guys come from the East and Midwest to play in Arizona, when they have great programs all around them at home. That says something for this program."

While Golembiewski will treat tonight's matchup as just another step on the Icecats' quest for a national title, he still realizes its significance.

"This is more important to the program than it is to me. I have been surrounded by great players and great people for so many years," Golembiewski said. "Coaching young people keeps you thinking young, and I have been terribly blessed for such a long time."

The puck drops tonight at 7:30 at the Tucson Convention Center arena. The Icecats (14-5) take the ice tomorrow night at well, squaring off again with Robert Morris College.


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