By Larry Mullenix
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Who says there is only one important tournament in March?
The American Collegiate Hockey Association's annual tourney is starting today at the Tucson Convention Center and the UA club hockey team is ready to give the seven visiting teams some desert hospitality.
With No. 1 seed Penn State, Ohio University, Arizona, Iowa State, Eastern Michigan, North Dakota State, Michigan-Dearborn and eighth-seeded Illinois all here, Tucson is actually a hockey hotbed.
The tournament is divided into two pools that will play each other in a round-robin format, with the winners playing Saturday at 7:30 p.m. for the championship.
Pool A consists of Penn State, fourth-ranked Iowa State, fifth-ranked Eastern Michigan and Illinois.
Pool B features the Icecats and second-ranked Ohio, six seed North Dakota State and seventh-ranked Michigan-Dearborn.
Face-off times for games today, tomorrow and Friday are at 10 a.m., 1 p.m. and 4 p.m., with the Icecats playing at 7:30 each night.
Tonight, Arizona will conclude the opening day of play by taking on two-time defending champion North Dakota State, a team that was defeated by Iowa State earlier this year.
This bodes well for the Icecats because they swept the then-No. 3 Cyclones squad by scores of 5-3 and 8-4 behind a Sam Battaglia hat trick.
The second game for the Icecats should be more of a test when they face-off against Michigan-Dearborn, one of only two teams that tarnished the Icecats' otherwise perfect record.
But Icecat fans should not be worried about the matchup because the Icecats also defeated Dearborn. The two games were part of a three-game Detroit road trip that started the second semester which also featured Eastern Michigan.
In what should be the most competitive mid
of all the round robin games, Arizona faces off against second-ranked Ohio.
But even with those factors in front of them, the Icecats can't be counted out just because they are not the number one team in the tournament.
"There are quite a lot of politics that go on when they make up the rankings and the seedings for the tournament," Icecats head coach Leo Golembiewski said.
"Eight people make up the rankings and Arizona and Ohio had no one voting this year," Golembiew-ski added.
Golembiewski believes that his team was placed in the tougher of the two brackets, but said that playing four solid games in four days is the only way that any team can win a championship.
"I think that it is obvious that we are in the tougher of the two brackets, seeing that Ohio and ourselves are in it along with a team that we lost to in the regular season."
In pool A, the odds on favorite, at least on paper, is Penn State. The Nittany Lions will face off against Illinois, Eastern Michigan and Iowa State.
However, some of the Icecats expect a bit of a surprise from Pool A.
UA senior defenseman Ricky Pope believes Eastern Michigan is a team to watch out for.
"They (E. Michigan) are a team that does nothing spectacular but they will put out 100 percent in every aspect of the game from start to finish."
The Icecats do, however, have one rather obvious advantage over each of the other teams at this year's tournament: the fans at the TCC.
Icecats games were enjoyed by 107,868 people during this year's 20-game home schedule and Golembiewski expects great crowds during his teams run for another title.
"This team is the best that we have ever had here at Arizona and I think that the fans in this city have really supported us thus far and will continue during this week. These are the best fans on the planet."
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