Arizona Rubber

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NAU D-II team ready to renew, start in-state rivalries in ‘17

 

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After a successful fall semester that included a 14-game winning streak, Northern Arizona University’s ACHA Division II hockey team returns after the winter break with a couple key series in Prescott Valley.

NAU’s first games of 2017 in Arizona are a series against Grand Canyon University at the Prescott Valley Event Center on Jan. 20-21.

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IceJacks director of hockey operations A.J. Fairchild thinks the Prescott Valley crowds will be bigger this semester with more promotion after their previous games there had to go against the historic Cleveland Indians and Chicago Cubs World Series.

Still, NAU beat Cal Lutheran 16-2 and 17-0 and GCU 8-3 and 4-1. On Jan. 27-28, the Ice Jacks face Arizona State’s Division II team at Prescott Valley.

“They’re much better for the January games,” Fairchild said. “We played during the World Series in the fall, so there was a lot of stuff going on and Cal Lutheran isn’t a natural draw and Arizona State is a natural draw.”

The Arizona Sundogs pro team that skated in the Central Hockey League played at the Prescott Valley Event Center, which is now home to the Northern Arizona Suns basketball team in the NBA Development League.

Fairchild thinks GCU, which is in its first season, can become one of the ACHA elites like NAU, Arizona and ASU.

“They’re growing, they seem to be well-coached and they seem to be getting better every week, so we know we’re in for a good battle against them when we play them,” Fairchild said. “We got a lot of players in the area and there’s no reason why all four teams can’t be competitive.”

Fairchild expects a swarm, of fans for the ASU games like they drew last year in Prescott Valley. The Sun Devils are ranked 13th in the West; NAU is No. 3.

“It’s going to be great – we had a packed house both games last year and we hope we do it again,” Fairchild said. “The guys feed off the energy.”

— James Kelley