By Craig Degel
Arizona Daily Wildcat
No one may ever accuse Icecat coach Leo Golembiewski of being a pessimist, but he was surprisingly optimistic at the Icecats' season-opening press conference at the Tucson Convention Center yesterday.
After all, gone are enforcer Ricky Pope and the point-scoring machine Steve Hutchings, and in January, the Icecats will find themselves playing a string of four schools that radio play-by-play man Bert Lee called "suicide row."
"He (Pope) is not only a great hockey player but a great friend," Golembiewski said. "You can't belabor the fact that he's gone. You just reload."
If the Icecats are to indeed reload, they will have to do it before Dec. 1. Starting that night and continuing through the middle of January, they will play four teams that visited Tucson last year for the American Collegiate Hockey Association Championships.
Defending champion Ohio, Eastern Michigan, Michigan-Dearborn and Iowa State will all visit TCC for two-game sets with the Icecats.
"It's a great schedule," Golembiewski said.
In past years, the words "great schedule" and "Icecats" have not often gone together. Golembiewski and the rest of the program seemed to realize that playing Stanford, California and other teams does not prepare you to face the best when it counts.
Stanford is still on the schedule Ÿ the Icecats open up their season next Friday with the Cardinal at the TCC Ÿ but California and Kent State have been replaced by Delaware and Marquette.
Also on the schedule is last year's Division II champ, Colorado State.
"We have a heck of a tough January," Golembiewski said.
Going to the tournament has become one of the Icecats' personal calling cards. They have done so since the inception of the tournament in 1983.
The team recruited 17 players to go along with 12 returners to give it a deeper squad than the team has had in the past, Golembiewski said.
"We have nine or 10 strong defensmen, and maybe four lines on this team," Golembiewski said. "And we haven't had two real solid goalies in awhile and we're proud of that."
Senior co-captains John Muntz and Chris Noga will lead that strong defensive corps. But freshman Jeff Rice could step up to play a major role as the physical-enforcer type. At 6-foot-3-inches, 195 pounds, Rice has already impressed Muntz.
"He's a pretty big boy," Muntz said. "In practice he's made a couple of really big hits."
In terms of offensive firepower, hardly anybody in the organization can stop talking about junior college transfer Andy Knick. He is considered to be the fastest skater on the team and at 20 years of age, he's been around the rink a few times.
"He is so fast," Muntz said. "The first couple of times he came down my side he just went right by me."
Should the Icecats play well in their new league Ÿ the Central States League Ÿ they may find themselves contending for their second national championship.
"We are a premier college hockey program," Golembiewski said. "Maybe we can rival for championship ring number two."
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