Patrick Finley on Arizona Wildcats hockey: Skating around the issue

Cats make due with rare ice time at TCC, trips to Phoenix rinks
2012-09-20T00:00:00Z 2014-07-08T15:35:58Z Patrick Finley on Arizona Wildcats hockey: Skating around the issuePatrick Finley Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
September 20, 2012 12:00 am  • 

'Buffalo" Bill Cody loved the land in northwestern Wyoming so much that he brought his friends there to start a town.

More than 100 years later, Cody, Wyo., spans 9 1/2 square miles and contains about 9,500 citizens.

It has a full-time hockey rink.

Sean Hogan ran the Junior A Yellowstone Quake in Cody. He also coached at Oakland University in Michigan, which had, by his estimation, 10 full hockey surfaces within a five-mile radius.

When Hogan coached at Western Michigan before being hired to run the Arizona Wildcats club team last year, he was surrounded by at least six hockey rinks.

Today, one day before their season opener at NAU, Hogan's Wildcats will drive to Chandler to practice before continuing on to Flagstaff.

Their home ice at Tucson Convention Center is booked.

Maná, the Mexican rock band, is in town - and the Wildcats can't exactly drive across town to a different rink.

"It's a pretty unique situation here," Hogan said. "People have told me Tucson's the largest city in the U.S. without a year-round hockey rink."

That sounds about right.

And that's a tough hand to be dealt when you run a hockey team.

Although TCC recently spent two weeks installing new lower-bowl seats - they have cupholders, which are sure to see mileage at hockey games - the team couldn't practice on the ice. The UA did get some ice time earlier this week.

"Everything about this place is awesome," Hogan said. "The facilities are great. The new seating is going to make it better.

"It's just a tough situation sometimes when it comes to our practices."

The Wildcats instead lifted weights and took spin classes at the UA Rec Center. Spinning is a major component in hockey training, Hogan said. (Which would make my wife Guy Lafleur.)

Players gathered the past couple of weekends at Phoenix-area rinks, running their own drills and scrimmaging.

They didn't return to TCC until Hogan ran practice Monday, five days before the opener.

"You always like to play in your own arena, to get used to everything," senior forward Brian Slugocki said.

The Phoenix road trips made for good bonding.

"Over a meal, over a snack, you learn stuff," said defenseman Shane Gleason, who moved from Phoenix to British Columbia halfway through high school to attend a hockey academy and later played juniors in Canada. "You get some of these guys away from the coaches, you start to see their true colors."

The UA traveled to Chandler to practice during last season when the TCC was booked, and figures to do so again later this year.

It's expensive - about $1,000 to charter a bus for its 28 members - and doesn't return players to Tucson until after midnight.

Ice time is that critical.

Unlike sports based on set plays, hockey needs the skilled improvisation that comes from experience around teammates.

"Hockey is a game of habits," Hogan said. "It's not like other sports, where you set it up.

"There's nothing you can do to simulate that."

The Wildcats hope this week's on-ice practices are enough to stop NAU. The UA takes three more road trips before its Oct. 27 TCC opener. The UA eclipsed last year's season-ticket mark in one day.

Slugocki said that the UA will have "failed" if it doesn't reach the national tournament. His coach agreed.

"We're definitely headed in the right direction," Hogan said.

Even if, occasionally, it's out-of-town to practice.

2012-13 UA hockey schedule / B7

Up next

• Who: Arizona at NAU, season opener

• When: 8:30 p.m. Friday

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