Needing a split against a team that dominated them a few months ago, the Arizona Icecats will once again play undermanned, missing suspended and injured players - most notably their lead defender and workhorse goalie.
No. 15 Arizona (9-7-2) flies to Utah today to face No. 8 Weber State (16-9-1) in the first of a two-game set in Ogden. The Wildcats beat the Icecats 6-2 and 4-2 in November.
In the season thus far, the Icecats face WSU at less than full strength, without two players suspended for today's game because of their roles in the large brawl following Arizona's last game, against No. 4 Lindenwood. Sophomore forward Mike Pollock and sophomore forward/defender Banks Concepcion are out and senior captain and defender Keith Mitchell "tweaked his ankle in that fracas," according to Icecats head coach Leo Golembiewski.
The fight occurred after the penalty-riddled second game of the series, when a Lion struck freshman forward Dave Cwik. Golembiewski said that he thought four or five Lions were suspended, with one even getting a double or triple disqualification, though he said he was only worried about his team and wasn't sure.
"When they tomahawked Cwik, there was nothing we could do to avert that," Golembiewski said.
In addition to Mitchell, junior forward Mike Smith and junior goalie Bryan Aronchick are hurt. Mitchell missed nearly the entire first semester with a back injury.
Golembiewski hopes that the speedy Icecats will benefit from the arena the Wildcats play in, the Weber County Ice Sheet, which was the venue for curling in the 2002 Winter Olympics. The sheet has an Olympic-size rink of 210 feet by 100 feet, as opposed to the normal size of 200 feet by 85 feet.
"It should be an interesting two-game (series)," Golembiewski said. "We're hoping (the rink size) will help us out a lot."
The Icecats need a better result than last time against the Wildcats. Golombiewski said his team needs at least one win to keep its American Collegiate Hockey Association tournament hopes alive.
"If we want to entertain any thoughts of getting into the tournament, we have to at least split," Golembiewski said.
The top 13 ranked teams, with the exception of Lindenwood, which is ineligible for the tournament because of its first-year status, get in. The third-to-last ranking of the regular season comes out today.
The Icecats are 3-2-1 since the last poll came out, including splits with No. 16 Saint Louis and the fourth-ranked Lions, but also a win and tie against Division II Indiana.
The Wildcats also face the UA at a time when they are slumping a bit, having been swept at No. 19 ASU, losing 4-0 and 3-2. Golembiewski thinks it is more of case of the Sun Devils, who lost 4-1 in Ogden and 3-1 in Tempe earlier in the season and whom Arizona plays next, being "red hot" as opposed to Weber State struggling.
Golembiewski said games at the Sun Devils' home are much different because of the size of their rink.
"Arizona State plays in Oceanside Arena, which is 190 feet by 75 feet, so there is no neutral zone to speak of and there is a lot of banging," Golembiewski said.
When the Wildcats beat the Icecats, it was during a stretch when the UA lost six of eight games, including five of seven at home.
"I'm not going to apologize for having a 9-7-2 record, when before this season the kids in this program won 80 percent of their games," Golembiewski said. "We have 11 freshmen and 13 sophomores. It has been a very interesting 25th anniversary year."