Uncertainty continues to loom over the Arizona Wildcats club hockey team’s 2021 season.
Troy Vaughn, the UA’s director of campus recreation, said in a news release last week that he can give “no timeline” on when the team might return to practice or play games. The team plays its home games at Tucson Arena.
“Several items need to be resolved that involved the protocols of other teams that we could play,” he said. “There need(s) to be OK’s from the City of Tucson and Pima County health officials for the use of the TCC, and other variables. Let me assure you that I/we are working hard to meet those requirements that will be set before us.”
Vaughn said he is working to ensure UA players and staff are eligible for the elevated testing protocols similar to those of NCAA teams. Coach Chad Berman said that’s an important step, and that without the support of the university, the team could not afford to conduct enough testing on its own.
Returning Wildcats Anthony Cusanelli, Max Meyer, Bayley Marshall and Jesse Lowell continue to hope for a return to the ice. All viewed last week’s news as a sign that no one is giving up on them.
The Wildcats were 23-6-1 and ranked No. 8 nationally when the pandemic forced the cancellation of the 2020 ACHA playoffs. This season was supposed to start in late September or early October, but has been put on hold because of the virus.
Meyer committed to playing next season because “I want to go out the way I want to, and not because of this pandemic,” he said.
Marshall hopes to return to the ice at least one last time before graduating this year.
“Honestly, I’ll take anything,” he said. “I have been skating since I was 3, so it would be amazing just to get onto the ice with the boys.”
Cusanelli, a senior and team captain, recently posted a picture in the team’s group chat of the ice surface being put in at Tucson Arena. The Tucson Roadrunners, the city’s AHL team and the arena’s primary tenant, are moving forward with their plans for training camp and a home season.
“It’s tough being captain and keeping guys motivated with everything going on, so everything little thing that happens is important,” he said.
The ice and the arena that it is in are close to the hearts of these players.
“I’ve never played in a cooler hockey atmosphere,” Lowell said. “Truly, (it’s) the most amazing part of my hockey experience; the rivalry and the fans are unreal.”
Commitment and support from Campus Recreation and the university is keeping the season alive, Berman said. It’s a change from the past, where, Berman said, he had to do much of the heavy lifting himself.
“I can’t explain how dark some of those days were, but look where we are now,” he said. “In previous years, the plug would have been pulled by now, and this commitment is the culmination of that growth.”
No one within the organization knows with certainty where the team will be in the coming days, weeks and months. But certainty is a luxury that few are afforded. For now, the Wildcats have hope.
“It would be very easy for everyone involved to say this season is over,” Berman said. “I am so incredibly grateful that this means more than just dollar signs to give these kids a chance to play.”