Since capping off the regular season with a sweep over rival Arizona State in Tempe two weeks ago, the UA’s club hockey team has had time to physically recuperate and mentally prepare.
All for Saturday.
The ninth-ranked Wildcats (29-7) will open the ACHA national tournament against No. 8 Liberty in Frisco, Texas. Win, and the Wildcats would earn a showdown against No. 1 Lindenwood next week.
Coach Chad Berman says his team is better after the break.
“For a lot of teams … that freaks most teams out because they prefer to stay in a flow,” Berman said. “For us we, have to restart after February — and those two weeks is more important to us than anyone else in the country.”
Arizona finished the regular season on a four-game winning streak, with all four victories coming against ASU. The Wildcats outscored ASU 15-4 during that span without star Anthony Cusanelli, who was playing for Team USA at the World University Games in Krasnoyarsk, Russia.
Cusanelli is now back, giving Arizona two elite scorers heading into the playoffs. Bayley Marshall leads the Wildcats with 27 goals and 74 points this season; Cusanelli added 19 goals and 51 points while playing three fewer games. Marshall said he’s excited to have his linemate back; Cusanelli’s return should also give Berman more flexibility with his bench.
“We’re all excited to have him back,” Marshall said. “I like to get him the puck and he likes to shoot the puck, so it’s definitely going to be huge for our line.”
Berman said Cusanelli “makes Bayley a better hockey player because there’s another guy to worry about out there,” Berman said. “The entire purpose of my power play is to create two-on-ones with Cusanelli and Marshall and make teams choose their poison.”
The Flames finished the regular season 24-6-3, their final loss to coming to Syracuse in two overtimes.
Berman said he sees a lot of similarities between Liberty and UNLV, one of the Wildcats’ regional rivals. The UA split its four-game series with UNLV, with only one of the games decided by more than one goal.
“They’re probably the most skilled team we play,” he said. “It’s a more talented version of UNLV — and UNLV is very talented.”
Berman and Marshall said the Wildcats need to attack and take advantage of Liberty’s defensemen if they hope to advance.
“They’re a little weaker defensively down low and we have some guys that are really gritty in the corners so that’s going to be huge for us,” Marshall said.
Said Berman: “It’s a team that has a lot of depth maybe not real deep on defense as they’d like, so we want to put pucks down low we think there are areas we can exploit,” Berman said.
- Marshall, Cusanelli and goalie Anthony Ciurro were all named to the Western Collegiate Hockey League’s first team. Marshall was named WCHL Most Valuable Player, while Berman was named coach of the year. The WCHL awards are voted on by the coaches from the league’s eight teams. The WCHL championship was Arizona’s first in program history.
- Arizona is looking for its second national championship. Its first came in 1985, when the team was known as the Icecats.