From Arizona Daily Star
By Sebastian Janik
It’s the most wonderful time of the year — the time when Tucson Arena turns into a college hockey battleground.
The UA club hockey team will host rival Arizona State on Friday and Saturday, marking the latest chapter in a heated history between the in-state foes. The puck drops at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday at Tucson Arena.
“If you haven’t been to a UA versus ASU hockey game at the TCC, then you have not experienced one of the best sporting events in Tucson,” UA coach Chad Berman said. “And I say that honestly, knowing how great of a sports town Tucson is.”
Up for grabs in this two-game homestand is the chance to take the lead in the Cactus Cup, which is awarded annually to the winner of the season series between the two rivals. In October, Arizona (11-5) and ASU (5-8) split a two-game series in Tempe. There are six more matches scheduled for this season, though Arizona — as the current Cactus Cup holder — needs to finish with four or more rivalry wins to keep the trophy.
The 14th-ranked Wildcats are a perfect 7-0 at home this season. Leading the way is captain Anthony Cusanelli, who has put up 15 points. Newcomer Brody Selman has been a terrific offensive addition; he has a team-high nine goals over 16 games.
Cusanelli, who has hoisted three Cactus Cups during his Wildcats career, takes pride in the fact that he’s never lost a season series to ASU.
“These games are definitely different,” he said. “They mean more, and you can tell just by the energy leading up to the game and the thoughts of thousands of fans cheering for us and booing the other guys.”
This year’s series may be tighter than ever. Berman said the parity between the two teams is the best its been in two decades. Cusanelli welcomes the challenge, saying ASU’s continued improvement makes the rivalry that much better.
Arizona’s roster features 15 new players, many of whom have yet to feel the atmosphere of playing ASU on home ice.
Cusanelli says he trusts the Wildcats’ new players to step up.
“The older guys know what it takes to win in this rivalry, and the young guys are going to get thrown into the fire, but I trust all these guys going into battle,” he said.
Anything can happen in the series. In 2018, goalie Anthony Ciurro watched from the bench as one of the craziest spectacles in hockey took place — a goalie fight at center ice.
“You don’t really understand the rivalry until you are in it,” he said. “Playing in it makes it so different, there’s just no rivalry like this in the ACHA.”
UA forward Christopher Fritz took in a rivalry game as a spectator back in March 2020. The memory is still fresh.
“I was at the last two ASU games before COVID shut everything down, and the atmosphere was just unbelievable. I had chills running down my spine,” Fritz said.
Berman and his team know these games are guaranteed to forge more lasting memories.
Said Berman: “We don’t like them, they don’t like us, and that’s the way we like it.”
(Originally published at https://tucson.com/sports/arizonawildcats/these-games-are-definitely-different-wildcats-eager-to-take-on-rival-asu-starting-friday-night/article_2d5a5cc0-5202-11ec-925f-f385b0bf346b.html)