Leo Golembiewski, the face of the highly successful Arizona Icecats program through the 1980s and 1990s, passed away on Sunday at the age of 73.
He was having kidney problems and was in failing health after suffering a stroke in recent months.
Golembiewski, a member of the Pima County Sports Hall of Fame, established the Icecats in 1979 after moving from the greater Chicago area and won 634 games until 2011, when Arizona’s Department of Campus Recreation took over the operations and changed the nickname to Wildcats.
“What Leo did in Tucson with the Icecats was remarkable, really an incredible story!” former Icecats standout wing Kent Middleton mentioned in a text message.
Golembiewski also had a background of being a pitching coach and mentor at Sabino. He was with the Sabercats’ staff as a pitching coach about the time he no longer coached the Icecats. Former Sabino coach Shane Folsom, now at Mica Mountain, mentioned Golembiewski helped mentor the Sabercats in the 2019 and 2020 seasons.
He was also a baseball coach at Salpointe when he taught there, and one of the players he coached was Tim Gillooly, who became a pitching coach with Folsom at Sabino.
“(Golembiewski) would come out and give motivational speeches to the kids and became a mentor to some of them,” Folsom mentioned. “In the offseason, he would attend games. What many people don’t know is he was a big baseball guy. He knew a lot about the game and was a huge White Sox fan.”
Golembiewski had an overall record of 634–217–23 in the American Collegiate Hockey Association. He led the Icecats to the national championship in 1985 in his hometown of Chicago against Penn State and appeared in eight national semifinal games from 1984 to 1997. The Icecats also advanced to 10 national quarterfinal games.
The Icecat home games at the TCC became the place to be during weekends of the winter months, a remarkable achievement inasmuch as hockey in the desert was a novel approach.
“It was amazing, the fans were crazy,” Golembiewski said in a 2020 broadcast of the Blessed 2 Play podcast. “We had autograph sessions after games and we’d sign until 1 in the morning. The fans loved the kids. We taught the kids how to play hockey.
“The fans appreciated that. It was electric. It was great.”
A big boost to Golembiewski financially managing the Icecats operation was his wife Paula winning nearly $900,000 in the Arizona Lottery in 1986.
Middleton, who recently completed his third season as Pusch Ridge’s football coach, gained a high level of popularity in Tucson with the Icecats in the mid-1980s when he led them to their national title. The CDO graduate whose dad played Division I hockey at the University of Denver often shared front-page space in the sports section with Sean Elliott.
“We were kind of like an NCAA independent team because we were playing a lot of NCAA Division I teams,” Middleton said in a 2020 interview. “We took our lumps some times but we also won some. We had eight to 10 guys who were legitimate D1 players.
“It was a blast. We used to draw big crowds at the TCC. It was a big deal.”
Golembiewski earned his undergraduate degree at St. Procopius Academy in Chicago, where he was an accomplished goalie. He reportedly had a stint as a goalie within the St. Louis Blues organization.
After teaching history while coaching hockey at Lyons Township High School near Chicago, he moved to Tucson in 1977. He reportedly had a record of 302-43-12 while coaching Lyons Township.
He taught American Government at Salpointe while earning his master’s at Arizona. Students raved about Golembiewski’s “broom ball” game, makeshift hockey game in class with a broom and a ball.
While a student at Arizona, he requested the athletic department allow him to start a hockey program. The Icecats evolved as a club team.
Golembiewski later became president of the American Collegiate Hockey Association which included club teams such as the Icecats.
His charity work in Tucson included the annual Leo Golembiewski Celebrity Golf Classic for MDA.
According to the Pima County Sports Hall of Fame, Golembiewski mentioned during his time as the Icecats’ coach, “I’m blessed to live in a great community, coach some of the finest kids anywhere, and play games in front of the greatest fans of the planet.”
In the 2020 podcast Blessed 2 Play, he said of the development of the players in his Icecat program: “We’re really proud of how the kids responded in the classroom. … The Final Fours, Elite Eights and all that stuff was icing, but the bottom line was the building blocks of success in life.”
Funeral arrangements are pending.
FOLLOW @JAVIERJMORALES ON TWITTER!
ALLSPORTSTUCSON.com publisher, writer and editor Javier Morales is a former Arizona Press Club award winner. He is a former Arizona Daily Star beat reporter for the Arizona basketball team, including when the Wildcats won the 1996-97 NCAA title. He has also written articles for CollegeAD.com, Bleacher Report, Lindy’s Sports, TucsonCitizen.com, The Arizona Republic, Sporting News and Baseball America, among many other publications. He has also authored the book “The Highest Form of Living”, which is available at Amazon. He became an educator five years ago and is presently a special education teacher at Gallego Fine Arts Intermediate in the Sunnyside Unified School District.