Icecats begin season with 4-2 win

The ACHA No. 10 ranked Arizona Icecats opened their 25th anniversary season with the 18th ranked ASU Sun Devils Monday evening with a 4-2 victory. With basketball clearly favoring the Cats, and the football rivalry sadly dispassionate and mired in Scum, it's great to see the fire of the rivalry still exists in the sport of hockey.

Where else does listening to "Hava Nigila", "Girls, Girls, Girls" and "The Chicken Dance" all in one night seem appropriate but at a University of Arizona Icecat hockey game? There are certain things you can count on at an Icecats game: rowdy fans, a strange mix of music and a good time. The crowd of about 2000, many of whom wearing U of A gear, Icecat or NHL hockey jerseys or the understated "ASU SUCKS" T-shirt, were lively and enjoyed a tough fought Icecat victory. However, the rust of the Cats' first game was clearly evident as was the fact that ASU is no longer the pushover of the past. The first period saw the Icecats struggling to set up any offense and making defensive lapses that resulted in open shots on net. At times the Cats were caught chasing the puck and even tripping over each other, leading to great scoring opportunities for the Devils.

The Cats finally broke into the scoring column with a short-handed goal on a breakaway by co-MVP of the game Don Holtz, 15:46 into the first period. An assist was credited to Dave Cwik on the play. ASU quickly answered with a goal of their own at 18:12 when goalie, and co-MVP of the game, Bryan Aronchick lost a rebound and saw the puck sail over him from a prone position. ASU won the shots on goal battle in the first with 12-7, but left the ice with the score tied 1-1.

The trend continued with shots on goal again being won by the Sun Devils 12-7 in the second, but the Cats' power play unit was able to capitalize on Sun Devil mistakes. Only 4:00into the second period, the Sun Devils were caught with too many on the ice and Don Holtz, with an assist from Mickey Meehan, converted the power play goal. Just over a minute later, the Sun Devils were whistled for interference, resulting in a second power play goal. Cole Dunlop, with assists from Meehan and Holtz, caught ASU's goalie, "Timmy" Pine, behind a vicious screen and lifted the puck over his glove-side shoulder to lead the Cats into the locker room with 3-1 lead. Though spacing was much improved in the second period, passing was still less than sharp and the ice seemed to be hindering puck movement for both teams.

Bad ice or not, the Icecats and Devils both came out hard in the third period, with the aggressiveness clearly picked up a level. ASU struck first in the third at 3:50 into the period when Weston Pongracz took advantage of another U of A defensive lapse leaving him wide open in front of the net. The score remained the same throughout the period with shots being turned away from both goaltenders until the final minute. After a timeout, ASU pulled Pine for the extra skater with 1 minute left to play in the game. This nearly immediately backfired when the puck was cleared from the zone and slowly trickled toward the Devil's open net. However, the Devils were able to turn that shot away, but were never able to generate a good scoring chance in the last minute. With 5 seconds left in the game, the Icecats won the final face-off, and Shaun Brooks floated a ¾ ice shot into the empty net as time expired giving the Cats the 4-2 victory.

After the game, the co-MVP's were interviewed. When asked how he felt about the game, Aronchick said he "felt sick and (he felt) they didn't play well." He went on to confirm that the "ice had something to do" with the "sloppy play." Holtz was pleased with his two goals and said he has been "working on my speed."

The speed and talent of the Cats was obvious as most of the shots on goal were made on break-aways or 2 on 1 rushes. However, it was also apparent the Sun Devils had played 7 games this season already, as their passing was much crisper then the Cats'. It was also clear that ASU is no longer the mismatched, football-helmet wearing team from the 80's, but a competitor in club hockey. However, they will never be welcome in the "Madhouse on Main Street" where lil' "Timmy" Pine found out, every Icecat goal is still his fault.

Bard is a frequent contributor on the Cat Tracks' message board and a legendary tailgater. As owner of the Flying Wilbur he has taken the pre-game tailgate to a new level. He is also an unabashed UA fan and ASU hater. If you'd like to contribute a story or column, e-mail us at cattracks_1@yahoo.com.


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