Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Change at Arizona

Leo Golembiewski's coaching days are over at Arizona. All I needed to know about him: his official bio always contained the line "considered a protege of Scotty Bowman." Usually, you have to work with someone to be their protege. I like Mike Babcock, maybe I'll call myself a protege of his and use that on my coaching resume.

While everyone involved with Penn State hockey has been looking to the future over the last couple of days thanks to the hiring of new coach Guy Gadowsky, another story with ties to Penn State hockey's past has been developing all the way across the country.

That story: the complete reorganization of Arizona's ACHA program.

While officially this story goes back as far as a year or so, in my mind it had been building for much longer than that, as the once-proud Icecats program regressed from one of the ACHA's elites to a de facto Division 2 team that plays Arizona State sometimes. That's a pretty far drop for the program that beat Penn State for the 1985 national championship and remained a consistent contender throughout the 1990s and early 2000s.

The Icecats don't even qualify for the ACHA national tournament anymore, as their only appearance in the last eight years was in 2006. They've been lapped by archrival ASU, not to mention an entire new wave of top ACHA teams like Davenport, Lindenwood, Adrian, Oklahoma and Oakland.

While I'm not on the inside of that program my perception from over in the eastern time zone is that the Arizona Icecats became more about the ego of one man - program founder Leo Golembiewski - than about excellence on the ice. Arizona had no official affiliation with the university, not even as a student organization - it was run through Golembiewski's privately-held company called Icecat Hockey LLC. Which says to me that from day one, Golembiewski was more interested in building his own little fiefdom than he was in serving the student-athlete. And I don't seem to be alone in that sentiment, as according to the Arizona Daily Star, five student-athletes finally had enough of the situation:
Brian Slugocki, Arizona Wildcats club hockey president, said five players went to the UA about two months ago with three requests: They wanted a new coach, to be able to stay at the [Tucson Civic Center] and to be more involved with the university.

He said Golembiewski "deserves all the credit in the world" for establishing the Icecats in 1979 and winning 634 games. Still, the entire team supported a change.

"To get a new coach? Yes, it was unanimous," Slugocki said, adding players were "frustrated" by scheduling and results.
I alluded to the scheduling, which directly fuels the results. Remember when UofA would swing by Hockey Valley for a weeknight game on the way to playing two or three others on the east coast that weekend? Notice how Oklahoma, Central Oklahoma and Arizona State are able to build highly-competitive programs despite geographic isolation? The common thread in those three situations is university support, which Arizona will now enjoy as well. Per the Arizona Daily Wildcat...
Now that it's official, Golembiewski's 32-year reign as head coach is over, and Arizona Wildcat Ice Hockey has a new look. The Wildcats will sport new uniforms that can include the Arizona's block "A." The Wildcats will also have more funding to schedule road trips and bring in more competitive teams.

Slugocki said they have a chance to "go to nationals every year now."

The team still has to go out and find corporate sponsors, but [forward Brady] Lefferts said funding "won't be an issue." Slugocki also added that he's "95 percent sure" the convention center will still be permitted to sell beer at games.
They'll have the support of the university, and will be identified as a university team, which will undoubtedly help recruiting. They'll use an allocation/fees/sponsorships setup that will allow success, much like it's allowed the Icers success. The schedule will be upgraded, a vital piece to regaining bids to nationals. And they've removed a guy who, as good as he may have been at one time, had become an albatross on the program.

That albatross, as you might expect, is not going away quietly:
Golembiewski, who owns the Icecats trademark, did not return a message.

His attorney, Marian Abram of Karp & Weiss, said Golembiewski was "disappointed by the news."

She hinted at legal action, a decision Golembiewski could make in the next month or two.

"He's considering his options but doesn't believe the story is going to end here," Abram said.
Classy as always.

TYT extends its best to Arizona Wildcats hockey during this time of transition. While Penn State won't be around to see the end result, UofA was once a reason to believe that college hockey could work in the desert and on the west coast. Here's hoping it becomes one again.

...but most importantly, what becomes of former honorary captain Sgt. Slaughter?

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