Power Ploys

Page 7 of 9

"It looked like we were going to take a big stride forward, but once our sponsor backed out, it turned into the same old thing," says Satterstrom. "It was a big downer. We were definitely looking forward to playing in the nationals, and once they started putting more pressure on us, on top of school, we started getting stressed."

At one time, Arizona had such a superiority in hockey talent over Arizona State, the Ice Devils couldn't hope to compete. In the mid-'90s, the Icecats held a 65-game winning streak over the Ice Devils. In recent years, ASU's talent level began to approach Arizona's, but bad luck seemed to hound the Ice Devils at every turn.

In 1998, ASU won four games over a freshman-laden Arizona team, but ASU was ultimately required to forfeit all its victories that season because of its ineligible player. When the Ice Devils lost their slot in the American Collegiate Hockey Association playoffs that year, Arizona took their place.

These days, the easiest way to measure the gap between the hockey programs of ASU and UA is to contrast the kind of crowds they draw. It's where Arizona's superiority truly reveals itself. In the Valley, going to see Arizona State play hockey is a fringe diversion reserved for college-age hockey hooligans looking for an offbeat way to stir things up on a weekend night. The Ice Devils attract only 500 fans per game, a number that looks especially paltry compared to the 5,000 that Arizona routinely averages.

A case in point is the Ice Devils' home finale against UA. For this February 5 game, the Ice Devils draw an uncharacteristically large crowd of nearly 1,000, but Veterans' Memorial Coliseum still looks empty. The Icecats seem to have as many fans in attendance as the Ice Devils.

The Ice Devils enter the rink to scattered applause, as the funereal tolling of AC/DC's "Hell's Bells" pumps out of the arena's tinny speakers. Before the game, the public address announcer, in his best Don Pardo voice, intones: "There will be no national anthem tonight." The crowd laughs.

Once the game starts, ASU supporters compensate for their small numbers with manic misbehavior. Every time an Icecat skates by, ASU fans in the front row pound on the Plexiglas wall with such vehemence that it looks like the wall will come crashing down at any moment. When Arizona goalie Mark Meister doubles over in pain after absorbing a blistering series of shots on goal, a group of ASU diehards in matching yellow jerseys yells, "You pussy!" When the Icecats jump to a first-period lead, an Arizona State fan loudly derides UA as "Tucson Tech."

If Arizona State home games are a fringe pursuit for the Valley's puck-obsessed, a UA home game is the hip ticket in Tucson on weekends. You see the demographic gamut of Tucson at these games: middle-aged couples, blue-haired retirees, high school alterna-kids and pintsize skating aspirants. Together, they're a thunderous, intensely loyal lot who know everything about their team's coaches and players.

Their big hero is Leo Golembiewski, the gray-haired, droopy-eyed coach who looks like a puffier, more pompous Newt Gingrich, if such a thing is possible. Golembiewski formed the Icecats 21 years ago, and he's the only head coach they've ever had. He has the kind of haughty demeanor that suggests his ego long ago became too big for the Icecats' "club hockey" designation. When told that his program is held up as a model for other ACHA hockey programs -- a 1999 Seattle Times piece, for instance, suggested that the University of Washington's hockey team should follow the Icecats' example -- he firmly inflates the plaudit to be "a model for all college hockey teams."

When asked for the secret to UA's hockey success, he responds: "The school doesn't have any secret to it. We came here in 1979 with the dream of building a team with American-born hockey players. We invented the word Icecat. What the school has gained from it is the number-three draw at this institution. We've got no funding from the university. We never have. It's been all the hard work from our staff, small as it may be."

Golembiewski is quick to remind people that when he started the team, the Icecats had to play home games in Tempe. Since then, he's built a fan and advertising base so strong that the team is always generously funded, even with no backing from the university. He's so popular in Tucson that he even has his own radio show.

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Gilbert Garcia
Contact: Gilbert Garcia