Allyson Cummings (Walter Cronkite Sports Network)
House of Sparky analyst Nick Marek breaks down his focal points of the games against No.15 Central Oklahoma and No.6 Oklahoma.
Despite playing then-ranked No. 7 Oakland, No. 8 Lindenwood, and No. 16 Arizona, the hard stretch has yet to come for Arizona State Hockey.
"This is to date the biggest weekend of games we have had this season," head coach Greg Powers said.
This weekend, the Sun Devils hit the road to take on fifteenth ranked Central Oklahoma on Thursday before a weekend series against sixth ranked Oklahoma . Last season, the maroon and gold finished 4-2-1 against the Oklahoma schools, but they have not swept the Sooners on the road in the last five years.
Meanwhile, Central Oklahoma has not played an ACHA game in two weeks because Hurricane Sandy interrupted games with Rutgers, and Texas Christian University cancelled its weekend series with Bronchos last week. Though they have not skated in a game since October 27th and could be rusty this weekend against the Arizona schools, the break gives the Bronchos over 20 days to prepare for the team from Tempe.
Last weekend, ASU escaped with a 3-2 shootout victory over Oakland and a 6-1 victory against soon-to-be Western Collegiate Hockey League (WCHL) opponent Colorado. The Sun Devils boast an unblemished 15-0 record heading into the weekend. Even though that is the best start in program history, the team is still not playing its best hockey.
Here now are the three keys to success in the Sooner State.
1. Start off Strong
This past weekend, the Sun Devils did not blow their opponents out of Oceanside by any means. On Thursday night against Oakland, the game finished in the fourth round of shootouts and it was a two-goal game Friday night going into the third period against a division two squad. Not to mention, the game against Colorado was scoreless after the first 20 minutes of play.
That absolutely cannot happen this weekend for the Sun Devils to succeed in sweeping the Oklahoma schools. Out of the team's four road games thus far this season, three of which were decided by two goals or less and one went into overtime. ASU simply cannot display that kind of effort on the road against either Oklahoma school otherwise it will be an uphill battle in the dust bowl.
Fortunately, good goaltending and lock down defense has helped ease the pain of the nail biters. On the season, the Sun Devils are outshooting their opponents by a 48-20 margin on average per night, and if that continues this weekend, it should be three wins for Arizona State.
2. Full Team Effort
This is not the time to be looking down the bench and wondering which line is going to step up. This is the ninth full weekend of ACHA hockey and the Sun Devils need to showcase the team's depth this weekend to solidify their spot as the top team in the league.
Last weekend, Kale Dolinski scored the only two goals in regulation against the Grizzlies to force overtime and eventually a shootout in Tempe. On Friday night, forwards Brian McGinty and Colin Hekle started the offense for ASU in the second period. Those three players are first, third and fourth on the team in goals.
They will continue to do well this weekend but other skaters need to step up on this deep team. Just ask sophomore transfer Faiz Khan what it was like to score the game-winning goal for ASU, as he did with nine minutes remaining in Tucson.
I think it is safe to say that everybody is getting sick of hearing this topic associated with ASU hockey but it needs to be addressed. The short and sweet version is that the maroon and gold do better when they spend less time in the box.
In the three road games that ASU won by two goals or less, the team racked up 41 penalty minutes in the stat sheets. Kudos to the team because they only committed six total penalties all weekend on the road against Arizona.
That would be a promising sign on its own but it scares me that in the Sun Devils' last game, they spent another 26 minutes in the sin bin. ASU needs to remain focused on the road and keep their heads in the game. Arizona State will do better if they limit Oklahoma's power play chances. The Sooners already have nine power play goals on the year and Central Oklahoma bests them with 12 of their own.
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