Coach Rick Desjardins and his staff at Arkansas hope a strategic decision they made well before the start of the season will continue to pay off this week at the D3 National Tournament in Estero , Fla.
Desjardins and Co. scheduled 16 games with D2 teams in order to prepare their Razorbacks for the quality of competition they would face in the postseason. It’s worked so far. Arkansas won twice at the South Regional to qualify for nationals and won twice again to capture the SECHC title at the end of February.
At the home rink of Florida Gulf Coast , the top-ranked team in the South Region most of the season, the Razorbacks probably will be tested as they have not been this season. They’re in a pool with Hope College of Michigan, the No. 1 seed in that pool; Colorado, No. 2; and Fredonia State, No. 3. Each team plays the other three to determine which one advances to the semifinals.
The Razorbacks open up against Colorado Wednesday at 11 a.m. The Buffaloes were 15-8-1 during the regular season, including two wins and three losses against four other teams at nationals. “From the tape we’ve seen, they’re a solid forechecking team that likes an up-tempo game,” says Desjardins. “They’re a lot like us, five or six scorers deep.
“Hope is like that, too. They probably have 2-1/2 to three scoring lines. Most likely, the goalies will be the difference again.”
Desjardins thinks the Razorbacks just might sneak up on Colorado and the rest of the nationals field. “I think we may be a surprise to some people,” he says. “We might be a bit of an enigma to them. Some might say we’re lucky and not in as tough of a region. Hopefully, they’ll underestimate us and we’ll catch them off guard.”
The 10-day gap between the SECHC tournament and the beginning of the D3 National Tournament has enabled the Razorbacks to get completely healthy. They’ve continued their weekly schedule of two or three practices. “I believe they’ve got one solid week of hockey left in them,” he said.
So do their followers, who have grown in number and enthusiasm as the Razorbacks marched to a 25-6-0 record. When they practiced Sunday in Little Rock prior to boarding a bus for the 20-hour trip to south Florida, several hundred fans were at the rink to give them a heartfelt “Woo pig Sooie” send-off.