The No. 13 Arizona Wildcats fell to No. 4 Liberty 5-2 on Friday due to a lack of discipline from Arizona players, capped by an Andrew Murmes unsportsmanlike conduct penalty with 26 seconds left in the game.
"I apologized to the team," Murmes said to head coach Sean Hogan after the game. "I lost my head and it's totally my fault."
"You have to stop man," Hogan responded. "Guys are getting frustrated."
It's something that's been seen in the Arizona hockey program for quite some time, but it's something that just doesn't seem to go away.
"It's happened to us quite a few times this year," said captain Ansel Ivens-Anderson. "When it's a close game and the other team's playing chippy we tend to lose our composure. It hurts us when we retaliate. It's really just trying to get across to keep our head. Play physical, know where they're going to be. We just need to keep our heads high and battle through it."
"There's issues top to bottom on the team," continued the captain. "You can't really peg it on one or two guys. There were guys today, and there's guys other nights. We're all a team, all a group, we're not really going to single anyone out. Everyone knows when they made a mistake and we're all pretty accepting of it."
It frustrates Hogan, who was not pleased about how inconsistent this team is.
"We've done everything we can do," said Hogan. "We've took away ice time, we've done everything we can possibly do. We'll work 'em harder in practice until they understand that they just can't play that way."
"It's just losing hockey."
That's what's most frustrating to fans of this team. How can you look so good last week in two of the three games, and then come out and just not play with any sort of discipline or any sort of urgency?
When Arizona barely missed making the tournament last year because of not being able to win just one of the big games down the stretch, it seemed like that was what this group of guys needed to get it turned around. But after today and a few other games this season that were similar, how are they supposed to break through to that next level?
Especially Murmes, who said this last week after the Central Oklahoma win:
"We've definitely had our fair share of penalties, I know I'm up there in the penalty minutes this year. Guys definitely get frustrated, but we take penalties here and there and that happens, but we keep our composure and obviously we've shown to mature a little bit after the break."
Yeah, that didn't happen.
It wasn't all penalties for Arizona in this first of two games against the Flames. Poor defensive play also led to a bunch of odd-man rushes for Liberty as well as second and third shot opportunities on offensive possessions.
"We're changing our forecheck so we're giving up odd-man rushes, and we're not getting back hard," said Hogan. "It was a very lazy effort today I thought."
"We owe ourselves a better effort."
"A lot of their goals were second and third efforts," added Ivens-Anderson. "We're just not backchecking hard enough."
On the positive side, Grant Nicholson picked up just his third goal of the season early on in the game. The second Wildcat goal was off the stick of Ivens-Anderson in the third period, assisted by Murmes and Brennen Parker, like most Arizona goals.
The game was tied up at one after the first period, but Liberty was able to take advantage of favorable matchups and the bad penalties in the second period to get out to a 4-1 lead.
Ivens-Anderson made it 4-2 early in the third on a power play goal. The Flames put it away with their fifth and final goal with just under eight minutes left in the game while playing 4-on-4.
Saturday is a new day, and hopefully there is a new mental approach for Arizona as they look to come up with a split of the season series with Liberty. Steven Sisler was in net Friday, so Garrett Patrick will most likely be the Saturday night goaltender. Sisler actually played well, even though he gave up five goals on 46 shots. Again, put that on the defensive effort.
Saturday night's game starts at 7:30, and can be watched online for free here