Allyson Cummings (Walter Cronkite Sports Network)
The Sun Devils are 7-0-0 on the season and they face the Division 2 Aztecs weekend
Let's step away from the football field for one weekend to recover from the loss to Oregon. Fortunately, we have ASU hockey this Friday and Saturday nights.
ASU held on to their spot at number two in the ACHA rankings after sweeping then sixth ranked Lindenwood last weekend. We don't want to say this weekend will be easier for the Sun Devils, but they will be playing a far less talented opponent. This weekend, the Sun Devils host division two San Diego State. Three years ago, ASU beat SDSU 7-1 and 7-4.
Rather than give our five keys to winning the weekend series, lets highlight the five areas the Sun Devils need to improve upon going forward.
Apparently head football coach Todd Graham's motto rolls right over to the rink. After the grudge match against the University of Arizona Wildcats a few weeks ago, coach Greg Powers buckled down on the team's overall discipline and focused on not taking so many minor penalties.
Last Friday, the Sun Devils committed seven penalties, which resulted in four power play goals for Lindenwood University. The next day, the team accumulated 14 penalty minutes, which was only a two-minute improvement from the night before. Fortunately, ASU adjusted its penalty kill strategy over night to stop Lindenwood's ferocious attack.
This weekend should be a chance for the Sun Devils to work on their discipline before a tougher opponent comes to town. The more penalties they commit, the more time ASU's top lines have to sit on the bench while the penalty kill experts battle on the rink.
Speaking of penalties, the Sun Devil penalty kill was annihilated by Lindenwood's 5-4 and 4-3 offense last weekend, giving up five power play goals. Sparky's team managed to score three power play goals of their own, but there is no excuse to giving up five goals with a man in the box.
Last season, the Sun Devils were comfortable on the PK so this weekend is a chance for the entire team to rediscover that comfort and trust that their teammates will play smarter. The occasional tripping call when the opponent has a breakaway is acceptable. But an interference call off the puck at center ice should never happen to a team that is ranked number two in the league.
ASU worked this week in practice on making some minor adjustments to the specialty teams so we will see how they respond this weekend.
Depth vs. Experience
Considering the Sun Devils are playing a Division 2 opponent, Powers said he is comfortable playing everyone on the roster this weekend. This means ASU will show off their depth this weekend.
ASU forwards Phil Sansone and Connor Buchanan and defensemen Dan Kuenzi and Mike Smith have each played in a game or less this season. That will change this weekend considering they will be dressed for at least one of the next two games. Coach Powers has a very deep bench so any game time experience will help this team if they are looking to make a championship run in March.
Buchanan, Sansone and Chisholm are playing together on the fourth line Friday night.
It should be noted that ASU has arguably the best goaltenders in the ACHA. Joe D'Elia and Corey Frank helped lead the team to its 7-0-0 start, but Kyle Dietriech will his first start in net on Friday.
Friday games have been rough for the Sun Devils the past two weekends. Defensively, ASU needs to do a better job of controlling the pace in its own zone. D'Elia and Frank give up a few rebounds, but the maroon and gold struggled to clear the puck to the boards.
The forwards got caught too deep in the offensive zone against Lindenwood a few times. It's all about
This point is pretty obvious. It is still early in the season so Powers is not afraid to shuffle the lines around until he finds four that have chemistry.
The top line of Colin Hekle, Stephen Collins and Brian McGinty looked phenomenal last weekend, but we must not forget that they only played two and half games together. It takes time to build four lines that work well together, but the Sun Devils are on the right track.
Senior Brett Prechel played alongside Hekle before suffering a season ending torn ACL against Iowa State. Coach will also be looking this weekend to find a forward to fill the void of Prechel on the ice.
Game times this weekend are Friday night at 8 p.m. and Saturday at 7 p.m at Oceanside Ice Arena in Tempe.