Pardon Sean Hogan if he’s getting a little ahead of his skis — err, skates — right now.
“I make that mistake all the time, get too excited, too high, too low,” the Arizona hockey coach said with a laugh.
He has good reason: His Wildcats enter their first homestand of the season coming off arguably the team’s biggest winning streak in more than a decade.
A pair of wins at No. 3-ranked Oklahoma – a 4-3 come-from-behind win on Friday night, a 2-1 comeback victory on Saturday – have Arizona (5-4) surging in the American Collegiate Hockey Association rankings, from No. 19 two weeks ago before a split at then-10th-ranked Liberty to No. 11 after the Sooners sweep.
Now, as they prepare for their home opener tonight against Northern Arizona at 7:30 p.m. at Tucson Convention Center and a much stiffer test with No. 6 Delaware on Saturday, Hogan said his Wildcats are starting to get back that certain edge.
“That entire third period, we took it to the No. 3 team in the country,” Hogan said, though the Sooners dropped to No. 8 after the losses. “We knew we were going to win. Then when Saturday came around, we just weren’t going to lose. The entire game, we knew. They finally believe they can do it.”
It’s all part of the plan for the third-year coach, who added, “In coaching hockey circles, it’s your first year you lose big, your second year you lose close, third year you win close and fourth year you know where we’re at.”
The plan expedited itself last weekend as the two-game downing of the Sooners followed an 8-1 loss to No. 11-ranked Central Oklahoma. First, they lost big. On Friday, though, they were due to lose close before a brilliant third period.
Trailing by two goals, senior Andrew Murmes scored five seconds into the period and tied the game with 1:34 left in regulation.
After a third Murmes goal in overtime was disallowed, Matt Nowicki scored to ice the game for the Wildcats, who last defeated a top-three team in 2002 (No. 2 Delaware).
“We definitely have the talent to do it, and once the guys start believing, that’s when things get easier, and right now, we’re believing in each other,” Hogan said.
It’s easy to believe with such a strong defense.
Hogan, who took over the program from coach Leo Golembiewski in 2011, when the University of Arizona officially recognized it as a club sport, said the Wildcats go nine deep defensively in support of goaltender Steve Sisler. Sisler had 36 saves against Oklahoma on Saturday after racking up 31 on Friday in the win.
“We have nine really good defenders, and you can only dress six or seven, so there are always a couple guys who are really good hockey players sitting in the stands,” Hogan said. “That’s how we’re going to win — keeping the game low-scoring, keeping the scoring chances down and maximizing our own opportunities.”