Sitting at 5-9-1 in December, the climb back to a .500 record and, more importantly, a feeling of consistency perhaps seemed more daunting to the Arizona Icecats than the record indicated.
The challenge was more than just four games. A myriad of questions surrounded the team entering the second half of the season: Who would play? And who would return?
A rash of injuries to key players including Matt Conover, Cody Morin, Austin Capobianco and Jordan Schupan — as well as academic problems with others — contributed to continuous line changes and tinkering throughout the season.
Add to the chaos the fact that 10 freshmen played significant time on the ice, and it was no wonder veteran defenseman Zach Cherney said it took awhile for the team to blend.
"I think it was the product of being a young team and getting used to each other," he said. "But the coaching staff did a good job of putting different lines together."
Icecats goaltender Nick Boddy said some of the veterans had to make adjustments as well, on and off the ice.
"I'm proud of the way we ended after the trouble we had in the first semester," Boddy said. "I know I made changes in my personal life and others did too, and we became a much tighter group."
Those changes helped lead the Icecats to a 7-2 record over their final nine games, including a dramatic sweep of Arizona State in the final series of the year to finish 14-13-2.
Boddy's stellar play in goal in the second half enabled him to finish as one of Arizona's top goaltenders ever. His 12 career shutouts and a save percentage of 91.8 are both the highest totals in Icecats history.
Playing more freshmen meant Arizona added a third line of players, a change from previous seasons when it primarily played two lines. According to coach Leo Golembiewski, the team used youth to "turn over a psychological leaf."
"We wanted hungry players," Golembiewski said. "We wanted players who felt like it was a privilege to play for Arizona hockey as opposed to a right, which we used to have with some of the older players."
Among the upstart contributors were freshmen Brady Lefferts and Geordy Weed. Lefferts was named the team's Rookie of the Year after he finished third on the team with 24 points, including 12 goals. Weed was selected the team's top defensive player.
Both make up a core group of underclassmen who significantly contributed and will be expected to lead the program even further in 2009-10. For Cherney, a junior, that means starting strong and making the national tournament.
"We're losing some good players, but we'll be very well-rounded next year if we can roll three lines and everyone plays consistent," he said. "It's tough to get in rhythm at the beginning of the year, but we need to try a lot harder because a fast start will put us in position to make the (American Collegiate Hockey Association) tournament."