The University of Arizona Wildcats has started another arduous pursuit of the cultivated National Title. Their primary odyssey comes in 16 parts; each one approached the same way. The team's proximity to Arizona State University means their paths frequently cross, which has long called an axiom as old as hockey itself. "The more you get to know your opponent, the less you come to like them." Over the next ten weeks their confrontations, around the league and with the long rivaled Arizona State will be an ongoing story under our distinctive microscope. The road is filled with ups and downs ending with a game here in Tucson that will cultivate a seasons worth of frustration and ambitions. In hockey, their spirits grow intimate with the pain and frustration, even as their will becomes ever more possessed by the ecstasy of victory. This is the road to the NCRHA Desert Duel, Arizona Wildcats vs. Arizona State Sundevils.
When you attend a school that has a rivalry dating back to in 1899 you are aware of the fact that you are stepping into a more significant story, one that started over a hundred years ago and that you are determining the next chapter. As an athlete for a school like the University of Arizona you are stepping into one of the longest rivalries ever to exist and are filling the shoes of those who came before you. The Arizona State vs. University of Arizona rivalry is one of the longest in football history. The Territorial Cup dates back 130 years and is credited as the oldest rivalry trophy in college football. “With the history of the University of Arizona you pinch yourself a little bit every time you throw on the jersey, I know everyone says that but its the truth. You walk around campus look up at the stadium and see some of the names hanging there and some of the great moments.” says freshman Ryan Miller. The University of Arizona was established in 1885 and has been ranked 32nd in U.S. schools according to The Center for World University Rankings. “It’s just a classic rivalry, Yankees vs. Red socks, Canadians vs. Bruins, Arizona vs. Arizona State. It is an easy game to get motivated for” says senior forward Cameron Kurz. Tributes to Arizona's continued athletic success are visible all over campus, constant reminders of expectations that never seem to descend.
110 Miles south of Tempe, The Wildcats Roller Hockey Team doesn’t date back as far as the Sun Devils’ program but has defined itself with its vigor and personal flavor. Since coming into existence in 2011, the Wildcats have been central characters in the saga of Arizona club sports. The team has reached nationals six of the last eight seasons, results that receive the highest of appreciations. “I think when you enter a season if your expectation isn’t to win a National Title than you have already sold your team short.” explains newly appointed president Alex Parrish, “The divisions that we play in have a lot of great hockey teams and I think we are one of them.” Parrish has undergone radical changes to the organization with the goal of re-shaping the team's image on the outside but also energizing players on the inside, attempting to remove the negative stigma that traditionally follows Roller hockey. His unique blend of passion and hard work had resulted in new facilities and equipment for the team, with locker-room renovations on the way. “Alex is a monster, a medium-sized monster” laughs rookie forward Ryan Miller, “He’s always in the gym and comes to every practice with the intensity you expect from a guy about to play in the Super Bowl. He pushes you to be your best on the rink, in the gym or the classroom and it motivates you.” The team has gone through a remarkable change this year on the bench as well, with some notable players graduating including star goalie Brett Bushnell. This change has left a small nucleus of familiar Wildcats such as newly appointed captain Jacob Toro, top goalscorer David Santos, and star forward Ben Jackson. This core is supported with an array of new faces, like senior, former Ice Cat, Tyler Gebauer, senior Trey Kerns, and the former Aspen leafs captain Taylor Knight. Surrounding them is a group of talented freshman including Matt Delseni, Ryan Miller, Adam Prumuka, Joey Misico and Aiden Evans.
Moving into the end of January both teams seasons started with success, placing them in the top of their division with, among others, the sun devils. This success however has come with setbacks, perhaps none larger than the loss of four games this season due to player ineligibility and the loss of the Division 2 goalie Kenny Eakle. Although many thought this was the end for the team, many players have come out of it with a positive attitude using it for motivation for the challenges ahead. The next matchup is February 2nd in Queen Creek with players increasingly on edge as we close in on the games.
In the midst of a series of losses the Wildcats sit in 5th place in Division 2 and 4th for Division 4, but they do so well aware of how much hockey is left to be played and how many questions are yet to be answered. Best laid plans have no place on the rink, it is part of what makes the game so difficult, and what makes success to invigorating.
This is The Road.