For 597 days, the UA club hockey team prepared to take the ice again at the Tucson Arena.
Last weekend, the team played its first home games in more than a year and half, raised their conference championship banner and rewarded fans with back-to-back wins over Colorado State.
“The best way I can describe it is that we felt like ourselves again,” coach Chad Berman said. “After such a long time away, we were able to be ourselves and be in front of our fans and being in the home building with the fans is just unexplainable. The best way to describe it is that it felt good to be ourselves.”
Berman credited the team’s leadership core for not focusing on a pair of season-opening losses at Utah and focusing on the home opener. Matthew Hohl, Jesse Lowell, Alex Johanson and team captain Anthony Cusanelli play their own roles in providing leadership.
“Lowell, Hohl, and Johanson, all three of those guys bring something different from a leadership perspective; Cusanelli is really a details guy. It’s a team within a team where each player has a role,” Berman said.
When things come together, like they did last weekend, the results can be staggering. Arizona outscored Colorado State 13-5 in two games. Roughly 1,500 fans passed through the doors of the Tucson Arena for the first time in a long time to cheer on the Wildcats.
The infamous chant “He shoots, he scores, hey goalie, you suck” rang out following each Wildcats goal. Fans ranged from students attending their first games to devoted season-ticket holders returning to Tucson Arena.
“It was great getting back in front of our fans in Tucson and winning both games for them. They have been waiting a long time, just like us, to have hockey back and it was awesome being able to see so many familiar faces,” Cusanelli said. “Our fans make Tucson a special place to play, and I’m happy to welcome them back the right way.”
When the clock ticked to zero in Friday’s home opener, Berman chose walk-on player Connor Zeigler to give his post-game thoughts. Whether a returning veteran or a new walk-on player, it will take the entire lineup to reach the goal of once again being the Western Collegiate Hockey League conference champions.
On the veteran side, Berman pointed to Lowell as a critical piece in the team’s victories. “Lowell has been our best player since Day 1 this season, and how hard he is in playing, his vision on the ice, there’s nothing he can’t do,” he said.
The Wildcats stayed hot this week, splitting a two-game series with rival Arizona State in the first games of the Cactus Cup. The Wildcats won Game 1 by a score of 4-1, then dropped Game 2, 3-2.
The Wildcats will play at Grand Canyon on Saturday and at UNLV next weekend before returning home Oct. 29-30 for games against Utah.