Arizona’s 6-1 Cactus Cup victory over ASU was one of the biggest accomplishments for the Wildcats in recent history. But for some, the win was just icing on the cake to a weekend that was already filled with nostalgia, brotherhood, and honor.
Prior to Saturday’s game between the Wildcats and the Sun Devils, Arizona hosted an alumni game that featured players from the last 25 years. All the alumni had come down to Tucson to honor former teammate Kelly Walker for Arizona’s first ever jersey retirement ceremony just hours later.
At the first intermission between the ‘Cats and the Sun Devils, the lights went down and the red carpet rolled onto the ice. Arizona’s alumni and current team filed on the outside of the carpet in a gauntlet-style line, awaiting the man of the hour. UA hockey media director, Timothy Gassen, emceed the event, introducing Kelly Walker to all the fans at the TCC.
Walker is Arizona’s all-time leader in points. He was named Rookie of the Year in 1989, 3-time team MVP and 3-time ACHA First Team All-American. Walker set several records for both Arizona and the ACHA, including scoring 114 points in 28 games one season, as well as finishing another season with 100 points — something that’s only been done twice in the ACHA. Walker still remains the all-time leader in ACHA Division 1 career points and assists.
“There’s no doubt that No. 16 Kelly Walker is the best of the best,” Gassen said.
Gassen believes the 1989-1992 Arizona IceCats were the best college hockey team to have not won a National Championship. He added that they were run to be essentially an NCAA program, much of which is credited to Walker and his linemates.
Once Walker’s jersey number went down in the rafters of the TCC, fans roared in applause and Walker came walking down the carpet. Walker took his time to address the fans at the TCC, thank all his former teammates, and reflect on what it means to be the first Wildcat hockey player to get his jersey number retired.
“I played here a long time ago, it’s kinda interesting that people still remember Cory, Johnny, and I and all the rest of the boys here,” Walker said during the retirement ceremony. “We’ve been doing this for like 40 years out here so it’s nice to have some recognition and come back.”
Walker then began to thank everyone how’s been an impact to him over the years as he began to fight back tears from built up emotion.
“I’m just extremely humbled to be here, to be in front of you guys, to be in front of this great arena.” Walker said. “It’s a very emotional moment for me.”
According to the rest of the 1992 IceCat team, after observing the fan and team interactions this weekend, they believed the TCC’s atmosphere has finally returned to its former self, adding that it has become fun again to be at an Arizona hockey game.
After the team’s Cactus Cup victory, UA seniors to their own time to reflect on both the win, the ceremony, and what it means to be a part of the UA Wildcat hockey team.
“Anything you want to see them succeed,” goaltender Austin Wilson said. “I still check out my high school team and junior team, you’re a part of for life. It’s a brotherhood, so it doesn’t surprise me to see them back here, and hopefully we’ll be back here in 25 years and that’s just what it is — it’s brotherhood — and you know... love ‘em.”
Team captain Orion Olsen, was quick to respond to Wilson’s comment, agreeing with him whole-heartily.
“I think it was pretty cool to be able to watch them and see they way they kinda bull-crapped around, they didn’t miss a beat,” Olsen said. “Obviously i’m not going to wish away time but, I can’t wait to come back down the road sometime and see all these guys faces and remember this moment.”
Follow Rob Leano on Twitter @RobLeano1