2015/16 Season Review
The 2015 -2016 University of Arizona Hockey season was packed full of excitement as the Wildcats reclaimed its status on the national stage, finishing 15th in the country!
In the first round of the National Tournament, the Wildcats were able to get their last win of the season against #17 Western Michigan University in dramatic fashion. John Hogan tallied the game winner on a great pass from his twin brother Toppie, roughly one minute into overtime. The goal sealed a historic victory for the program, marking the first National Tournament victory for the Wildcats since 2003.
“The experience our young group gained by going to the National Tournament cannot be overlooked,” said Coach Berman. “It was huge for the growth of our program. I think our guys got a taste of something they want to experience a lot more of. Next year I expect we will benefit from this experience and it won’t feel so ‘foreign’ to us. I think we have a really good young core-group that has a chance to be a top ten team next season with the right additions.”
“That feeling of seeing big John score the overtime goal is a bond we will forever have as a team. Unless you were there in person to feel the excitement in our locker room afterwards - to see the look on guy’s faces as we all hugged - it was priceless. That’s not something you can explain to other people, words just can’t explain that kind of moment.”
In one season, the Wildcats were able to go from unranked to 15th in the country! The future looks very bright for a team losing only one senior.
Let’s take a closer look as to how that process transpired…
2015-2016 Recruiting Class
This season was Coach Berman’s first recruiting class and it was clear that adding defensemen was a high priority. As the summer-grind of recruiting progressed, the Wildcats were fortunate to add some high-caliber defensemen; Nick Zellmer, Matthew Armenti, Ryan Cigile, and Sean Ozment, while also adding an old familiar face - Bryan Drazner.
“Adding defensemen was a huge priority for us last summer,” said Coach Berman.” Consistent hockey starts with great team defense, we wanted to get bigger, more mobile, and better at moving pucks on the back end.”
The Wildcats first recruiting splash was a major addition, adding Matthew Armenti, who stands at 6’1’ and 195lbs. Armenti, a sophomore-transfer from the University of Rhode Island, ended up 3rd on the team with 11 points (2 goals, 9 assists).
“Adding a player like Armenti was a huge start to our recruiting class,” said coach Berman. “He’s a very gifted offensive player who brings size and physicality as well. What’s even more exciting , there’s still a lot of room for Matt’s game to grow but you can’t teach the offensive instincts he already has. Once the rest of his game comes along I believe he has All-American potential.”
Adding to the crop of transfer players from the University of Rhode Island, defenseman Nick Zellmer, who towers at 6’1 and 200lbs, jumped into the mix soon after.
“To add a kid of Zellmer’s size and skill set is very rare, said Coach Berman. “ Even more important, Zellmer understands the importance of ‘details,’ he is an example of it every day. You can see this in how consistent he is about going to the weight room and library every day. It’s impossible for the guys in our locker room to see that and not realize why he excels on the ice and in the class room (maintaining a 4.0 GPA). He sets a great example of what it takes to be successful, no matter what goal you have in mind.”
After taking the year off for personal reasons, defensemen Bryan Drazner decided it was time to return to the Wildcats and help with the push to the National Tournament.
“Bryan came to me soon after our season had ended and expressed a desire to return to the team,” said Coach Berman. “It was clear in our conversations that he had a strong desire to return and be a part of something special. Drazner served as an important piece, bringing a more experienced ‘voice’ in a room full of younger kids. He was able to provide a sense of poise and calm in the locker room at times when things felt chaotic.”
“Sending Drazner back home to Chicago, IL for the National Tournament may be one of our most proud accomplishments this year. You could really tell the guys wanted to send him off the right way. Other than winning the whole thing, I can image a better way for Drazner to end his playing career as a Wildcat.”
The final pieces of the back end ‘reclamation project’ came very late in the summer with the addition of Sean Ozment and Ryan Cigile. Both guys played tremendous roles for the Wildcats, logging big minutes as the ‘shut down’ pair, matching up against the other team’s top lines.
“Those two pieces were the finishing touch of what we desperately needed, said Coach Berman. “ We felt we had added some really good top-end skill and wanted to add the necessary ‘glue guys’ to the mix. Ozment is the definition of a ‘stay at home defensemen. He led our team in shot blocks and became an excellent penalty killer, while still having the skill-set to move pucks and poise to make the simple play. Cigile was very impactful in similar ways. He is a kid with really long reach who executes at blue lines. He can be a real pain to play against, which is why we were so thrilled he was on our side. These two were able to shut down some of the top scorers in the country, which allowed some of our other guys to play to their strengths.”
Coach Berman, always looking to improve the roster and increase competition, was able to add two players at the semester break for the second year in a row. Last season the Wildcats added twin brothers, Toppie and John Hogan, who have consistently been at the top of the points list since their arrival. This year, the Wildcats added two more forwards; Brian Schehr and Tyler Griffith.
Brian Schehr, another transfer player from the University of Rhode Island, was a forward who provided some spark up front. Brian plays a gritty game and thrives on working in the difficult areas of the ice. He immediately established himself as a good net-front presence on the power play and sort of established a staple in his game, beating out icing calls.
“Schehr brought a bit of an edge to his game that we were sorely lacking, he added some much-needed depth to our lineup,” Said Coach Berman.
Tyler Griffith, born in Edmonton, Alberta, joined the Wildcats at the last possible moment, after transferring from NCAA DIII Plymouth State. Griffith provided a ton of versatility as a player who could play either wing or center. As a result, he was often bounced around lines in attempt to find the best four-line combinations. In the end, it was obvious that he could be used in many different ways, making him all that much more valuable.
“Adding Tyler was another huge boost to our lineup going into the National Tournament run,” said Coach Berman. “Every year teams run into injury problems, so depth is always a factor in how your team finishes down the stretch. Tyler made putting together line combinations that much easier, since he was such a versatile piece of the puzzle.”
“As Tyler’s confidence grew I thought he showed a lot of what he can bring to the power play as well. He is a kid that still needs to understand how to use his strengths more consistently. He is a good skater with a great shot - harnessing to those strengths will only make him an even more valuable player for us next season.”
Special Teams: Penalty Kill
The Wildcats displayed a penalty kill that was one of the best in the country, if not the best, finishing at roughly 92%.
“Our penalty kill was a true weapon for us this season,” said Coach Berman. “Unfortunately we had a lot of practice, due to taking so many penalties. However, there were many games that could have gone a different direction quickly had we not displayed such an elite ability to eliminate the opposing team’s man-advantage. I thought our PK group of forwards consisting of; Olsen, Grandov, Wilkinson, Griffin, and Toppie really furthered their development in that particular aspect of their game. Their willingness to consistently put their body on the line and block shots speaks volumes about how badly these guys want to win.”
The Wildcats two top penalty killers were Orion Olsen and Roy Grandov, who elevated their specialty to an elite status.
“I couldn’t put into words how valuable those two are for our program,” said Coach Berman.
“Olsen is a true leader and the type of player we want to build the program around. His defensive awareness is off the charts. More specifically; the effectiveness of his stick in passing lanes and his reach taking away time and space is what makes him so effective. Additionally, he is a kid who brings it every day.”
“Grandov is a kid who lays it on the line every night for the team. If I don’t see an ice pack on that kid after a game it’s because he didn’t play, and someone would have to force him not to play. He literally was a crash test dummy for us, blocking shots at a remarkable rate.”
“To me, we had one of the best PK’s in the country. No disrespect to our other killers, but those two were our best PK guys, so that makes them some of the best penalty killers in the entire country.”
The Junior Class -“Maturation”
Any time you have a young team, you need your upper-classmen to step up. Five of the top six point producers were from this seasons junior class, further adding to the excitement of the teams potential.
The five juniors:
For a more in depth look at the 2015-2016 Wildcat statistics, click here: http://achahockey.org/view/achahockey/men-s-d1-4/teams-361?type=statistics&level=team&id=508518&league_id=1800&conference_id=1150&team_id=508518
The Wildcats appear to have a very dynamic goaltending duo in the makings, with Garrett Patrick and Austin Wilson, both are returning next season. Both goaltenders had goals against averages hovering around three goals per game, constantly giving their teammates a chance to win. Last season, Patrick held the reigns as the number one guy and this year Wilson took over that role.
“What I like the most about both of our goaltenders is how competitive they are,” said Coach Berman. “That elevates the competition level of the entire team in practice, only making us better as a team. Wilson obviously had a particularly impressive season. He got really hot down the stretch and was a major reason we got into the tournament. In saying that, I have full confidence in Garrett, he is a great kid. I have no doubt that he will have a strong off-season and intends to challenge Wilson for the job again. This type of competition is great for our team, especially when it’s healthy. These two have a lot of respect for each other and are always pulling for the other to succeed. It should be one heck of a battle next season.”
(#15) ARIZONA 1 - @ (#8) Oklahoma 0
(Thursday, October 15, 2015)
(#15) ARIZONA - 3 vs (#9) Ohio 2
(Thursday, January 21, 2016.)
(#15) ARIZONA - 5 vs Midland – 1
(Saturday, January 23, 2016)
(#15) ARIZONA - 6 @ (#10) Colorado – 1
(Saturday, February 6, 2016)
(#15) ARIZONA – 5 vs (#18) Western Michigan – 4 (OT) (National Tournament-Round 1)
(Thursday, March 3, 2016)
Thank You UA Hockey Fans!
The entire Wildcat Hockey family would like to extend a very special thank you to all those loyal fans that come out to the TCC each season. The Wildcats are very fortunate to have the best fans in the ACHA! Your passion only further motivates the program to take the next step of becoming elite, with aspirations of one day bringing a National Championship back to Tucson. Thank you so much for all of your support! We look forward to seeing you all at the TCC for what is shaping up to be a very exciting season!