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One team, one goal: Icecats focus on unity

JOSH FIELDS/Arizona Daily Wildcat
The Icecats sit down for dinner at Little Tony's in the Gateway Ice Center after practice yesterday evening. The Icecats share a meal as a team every Wednesday.
By Kyle Kensing
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Thursday, February 3, 2005
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One gunshot-like sound follows another as a skater in red fires a slapshot that sails just right of the goal and slams into the boards at 70 mph.

A defender in green chases down the puck as red skaters trail close behind.

It's a whirlwind of sticks and gloves as the two sides battle for control. No time or score shows on the scoreboard to the side.

A shrill whistle ceases play, and the green and red sides converge at center ice as one cohesive unit.

This is an afternoon at the Polar Ice Center, where head coach Leo Golembiewski's Arizona Icecats prepare for a crucial series against rival ASU.

Everyone, red or green, is part of this Icecat squad, whose motto this season is "One Team, One Goal."

And to those involved, this mantra is more than just a catchy phrase.

"Basically you've got to mesh with everyone on- and off-ice and in the locker room," says senior defenseman Mike Smith.

Smith says the concept of one team, one goal is essential to Arizona's success as it marches to the American Collegiate Hockey Association tournament next month in Bensenville, Ill.

"When you're on the ice you want to know you can be comfortable with your teammates to be successful," he says.

Smith added that a part of Arizona's cohesion is knowing every player will watch out for the one another in any situation.

Junior defenseman and co-captain D.J. Pelletier says the mindset of togetherness has become as fundamental to UA's play as skating or shooting.

"It's come into effect in our wins," he says. "Without everyone doing their job you can't be successful.

"In those wins we've worked as team."

Golembiewski says a strong mentality is also essential to a winning hockey team.

"You have to work as hard off the ice as you do on it, and that's mental preparation. Hockey is 75 percent mental," he says. "The key to mental preparation is motivation."

Golembiewski brought the focus on mind over matter to Arizona in 1979, thanks to his experiences as a player in the National Hockey League, he says.

"We talked about (mental toughness) in the St. Louis (Blues) organization. It was one of the first things (former NHL coach) Scotty Bowman said to me," Golembiewski says.

"The individual does not beget the team, and you become a team in practice," he says. "(A team's attitude) emanates from the locker room and practice."

Golembiewski says "One Team, One Goal" is just the base of the Icecats' multifaceted approach to playing.

"This game must be played from the skate blades all the way to the head. There are just so many aspects," he says.

The importance of the UA's unifying mindset has taken on an even more important role recently, thanks to a rash of injuries. Co-captains Mickey Meehan and defenseman Mike Pelletier are both sidelined.

D.J. Pelletier says injuries may hurt morale, particularly when they affect top contributors, but they also provide others the chance to step up.

"(The Icecats) know it's time to stop hiding. Everyone sees that we get a chance to step up, and it's our time to shine," he says.

Smith says that adapting to a change such as an injury is nothing new for the Icecats, and as a result the team bond must be shared among every player.

"The guys are all close together," he says. "We have to be able to mesh with the change.

"You can be in the same lineup for six weeks, then have different linemates every game for the next two or three," he says.

As practice ends and the Icecats leave the rink, the anticipation of another matchup in three days with ASU can be felt.

There won't be a stat sheet for games in the newspaper, and none of the afternoon's best plays will make ESPN's "Sportscenter."

But nevertheless, this session - just like every other workout session Golembiewski leads during the course of a season - has made UA a better team as they continue to hunt that one goal: Hoisting the ACHA championship trophy next month.

As one team.

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