New sweaters, new faces, new season.
The University of Arizona Wildcat Hockey team kicks off their 2015-2016 campaign this Friday and Saturday night against Northern Arizona University at the Tucson Convention Center.
The Wildcats enter Friday night coming off a season of ups and downs. Last year, under the first season of head coach Chad Berman, the Wildcats finished at 11-22-3.
This off-season brought forth a series of changes, including the departure of former senior captain Shane Gleason. Despite losing some key figures, the Wildcats added several new additions to their roster, including defensemen Matthew Armenti and Nick Zellmer. Armenti and Zellmer are transfers from the University of Rhode Island (URI).
“Both of them are very high character kids with a strong work ethic and leadership qualities that will make a difference in our locker room. These are the kinds of kids that can help to immediately turn a program around,” says Berman.
Despite serving as a defenseman, Armenti told reporters at Media Day he is also capable of bringing some offense to the team.
Last year, Armenti tallied 31 points, with 7 goals and 24 assists at URI.
Other notable additions to the team this off-season included defenseman Ryan Cigile and Sean Ozmen.
Berman says Cigile and Ozmen bring great experience that will provide very strong reliable minutes for the team while lending a steadiness that should complement the rest of the team’s defensive core.
In addition to these recruits, Berman did not dismiss the positive impact returning players such as defenseman Bryan Drazner can bring.
The changes made this off-season has given the second year head coach a reason to be optimistic.
“The group of players you will see on the ice this season have their priorities in order; they are very strong students, have tremendous work ethic, a strong will to improve and desperately want to win! We did a lot of digging into our recruiting class to make sure these qualities were intact along with our strong returning core players.”
In what he described as an opportunity to get his “feet wet”, Berman says last season was a learning experience in adapting to the challenges of coaching at an elite level.
“There were a lot of things that I would go home and reflect on: how could I do that better, I should have done this, I need to prepare and be better organized for this…at the same time I had a lot of days where I was able to go home and feel really good about the job I was doing.”
Berman says that although he may not be considered the best coach in this league, he is the hardest working.
Along with his players, Berman hopes this hard work will begin to pay off starting this Friday night against an NAU squad which will consist of 21 returning freshman, including some of their top scorers.
Last year, the Wildcats won the season series in tight and hard fought battles.
In preparation for this weekend, Berman says the team is focused on their play rather than their opponents.
This week, the head coach’s post-practice video has been focused on different parts of the team’s systems, including the offensive zone fore-check, neutral zone fore-check, defensive zone coverage, and making sure they are back-checking.
“We feel very prepared and excited to go to battle, and that, in itself, is a head start for building our confidence.”
Be there to support your Wildcats as the puck drops at 7:30 p.m. both nights.