Austin Wilson led his team to a two-game sweep of the Colorado State University Rams this weekend at the Tucson Convention Center.
After playing fairly well in relief for Garrett Patrick on a couple of occasions this season, Arizona head coach Chad Berman notified the sophomore backup goaltender early last week that he would get the start coming into Friday night.
A primary concern for Arizona entering Friday surrounded the uncertainty of Wilson’s ability to play at a high level knowing he would get the start. As Berman noted the weekend prior, Wilson tends to be more anxious when he's aware he will gets his spot between the pipes.
After his performance this weekend, Wilson would leave his teammates and coach with minimal, if any doubt.
The Michigan native would post 38 saves on Friday night, only giving up two goals which he arguably had very little chance on.
One of those goals came late in the second period by CSU forward Austin Ansay.
“I saw the puck at the last second and really didn’t have a chance at it,” said Wilson.
Earlier before Ansay’s goal, Arizona hit two posts. After hitting the iron six times last weekend against Oklahoma, the Wildcats would not allow themselves to become discouraged.
During the intermission, Berman said he motivated his team by expressing the urgency to face the adversity and force a win.
In what Berman describes as a more mature Arizona group than last year, including guys who bring mental toughness and significant leadership, the team quickly regrouped.
Just 1:17 into the third period on a man-advantage, Arizona center Brian Hogan received a pass from his brother John, which would even the score for the Wildcats. Nearly five minutes later, Brian Hogan followed up again by scoring off a rebound in front of CSU goalie Dax Deadrick. With the Wildcats leading 2-1, Arizona would now have to fight off any potential CSU scoring chances with a long fourteen minutes remaining in the game.
In what looked like would be a Wildcats victory with less than five minutes left of the clock, Ansay would score his second goal of the night to force the five-minute overtime.
In the overtime, both teams created quality scoring chances. The biggest scoring opportunity came on a drive from UA’s Robbie Wilkinson, in which he slid past multiple CSU defenders all the way from the Arizona end of the ice and found himself on a breakaway opportunity. In what would’ve been a highlight reel goal, likely for years to come, Wilkinson was denied at the last second on a desperation save by Deadrick with his left pad.
“That wasn’t typical of him. A couple inches and that’s a goal,” said a laughing Berman after the game.
Unable to solve any of the goaltenders, the game would be decided in a shootout. With CSU shooting first, Wilson stood tall and gave his team the advantage with making the first stop. Just like he had been all game, Brian Hogan was opportunistic as he scored to put the Wildcats ahead in the skills competition on Arizona’s first attempt. With Wilson denying the next CSU shooter, this would give Alex O’Dea a chance to redeem himself, who had taken the costly third period penalty which lead to the game-tying 2-2 goal. Sliding the puck past Deadrick on a backhand shot, O’Dea secured the Wildcats their fourth win of the season.
Berman praised the effort of Wilson following the victory, focusing on his steadiness and confident play.
“He’s on top of the crease and I think he’s battling well through traffic and battling to get loose pucks.”
Impressed by Wilson’s performance, Berman announced immediately after Friday's victory that the backup goaltender would again be starting on Saturday.
Battling a CSU team that had also suffered a heartbreaking loss against Northern Arizona University on Thursday, Arizona’s first two goals, coming in the first and second period on Saturday night certainly frustrated the Rams.
However, similar to the night before, Colorado State would not surrender despite trailing.
An eventual third period goal by CSU’s Dawson Pascale would split the Wildcat lead in half. With about 7:21 minutes into the last period of play, Wilkinson would extend the score to 3-1. With Wilson playing well in net again, stopping 34 shots of the 35 that came his way, the Wildcats would hold on to complete a sweep of the Rams.
After such a successful weekend for the team and himself, Wilson reflected on how he has evolved as a better goaltender since last season.
“Last year if you ever saw me before a game I wouldn’t talk to anybody. This year, I’m focusing on staying more loose, joking around and really having fun with the game. Instead of 60 minutes of work, it’s 60 minutes of play.”