With the holiday season upon us, the Arizona State Sun Devils are in the midst of a well deserved break.
After winning 20 of their first 22 games, they sit atop the ACHA rankings for yet another week and rest up for their next games, which will come during a road trip to British Columbia beginning December 28th.
As the team is essentially at the midway point of their 2012-2013 season, this is a prime opportunity to reflect upon what has happened, and project what is to come. Nick Marek handed out some midterm grades, and I took a look at the key numbers in the Sun Devils' fast start.
Now we begin a series of roundtables examining the major topics. First up, the House of Sparky staff will give their picks for the team's biggest win of the year. Joining us in this post to give us an insider's view will be ASU senior defenseman and alternate captain Brian Parson.
Brad Denny: Sometimes, the obvious answer is the right answer.
Yes, the team's thrilling shootout win against Oakland was huge. On the surface, it was a big win against the nation's seventh ranked team. But below that, there was the backstory of an Oakland team that has stunned the ACHA with their first round upset of ASU during last season's national tournament. The Sun Devils showed great heart in rebounding from blowing a third period lead to beat the Golden Grizzlies 3-2 in a shootout.
But really...no win this season until the postseason will mean as much as ASU's 3-1 win over Penn State on December 1st. Let's count the ways.
First off, it was the first victory by ASU over an NCAA Division I opponent, a major accomplishment in its own right, let alone one that came on the road. It also came a night after the Sun Devils were throttled 8-3, and the heart and resolve shown by ASU in their historic win was nearly as impressive as their skill.
The biggest impact of the win, however, will come in the future. Such an impressive feat has put even greater attention on the Sun Devil program, resulting in an already attractive destination being even more difficult for top players to pass up. Word is that shortly after the win, many prominent players got in contact with the program. This will be a win that keeps on giving.
Kerry Crowley: The Sun Devil hockey team has labeled this season as a "National Championship or bust" season and they concede that anything less than a celebration that involves the first-place trophy will be considered a failure. With this goal in mind, its difficult to choose the biggest win from the first half of the season because this team remains focused on the ultimate goal of winning a title.
For the sake of parity, I've decided not to choose the victory over the NCAA Division 1 Penn State Nittany Lions as the biggest win of the first half. Instead, I believe Arizona State's shootout victory over the Oakland Golden Grizzlies is the Sun Devils' most important win so far and I have a few compelling reasons to defend my decision.
When the Sun Devils traveled to Penn State, no one outside of the ACHA expected this team to hang with the Nittany Lions, let alone come away with a victory. In fact, rumor has it that Penn State has already destroyed the game film from the loss. However, the Sun Devils all but guaranteed a victory over Oakland earlier this season.
The Golden Grizzlies overcame a two-goal deficit to knock off the Sun Devils in the National Tournament last season. Colin Hekle and company had revenge on their mind, and NEEDED to defend home ice in Tempe. When Oakland came to town, all the pressure was on the No. 1 ranked Sun Devils and they struggled throughout the night.
Ultimately, Oakland took the Arizona State to the brink and forced a shootout. For the first time all season, the Sun Devils had their backs against the wall and this happened against an opponent they had a burning desire to beat. Ironically, two newcomers, Faiz Khan and Stephen Collins, found the net for shootout goals while Joe D'Elia protected the net admirably to give the Sun Devils the win they needed the most. Beating Penn State was more memorable, but defeating Oakland was more important.
Allyson Cummings: The biggest win for me goes without question to the December 1st Sun Devil victory over Penn State. I cannot stress enough how key it was for the maroon and gold to come out with a win against an NCAA D-I opponent. The win does wonders for the team's momentum and proves to the entire ACHA what they are made of. Not only that, but this sends a very clear message that they are here to win their very first national championship this season.
Let's break this down real quick. We saw a stellar performance from goaltender Joe D'Elia, who blocked 36 of the 37 shots on net. Veteran player Kale Dolinski continued to dominate on the ice, scoring two of the three goals, which marked his 20th and 21st goal this season. The defense held their own against the depth of Penn State, allowing only one goal to get by them. Ladies and gentlemen, this is the type of performance that wins championships! This game was highly significant regarding the damage that ASU can do and for me was the highlight of the first semester.
Nick Marek: There are plenty of options to pick as the team's biggest win of the season and Penn State and Oakland are the obvious front-runners. It was the first time in ACHA history that a team beat an NCAA program and the Sun Devils got a little piece of redemption after beating Oakland in a shootout.
One game arguably had more meaning than both of those victories. Not because it caught as much ACHA attention, but because it showed the team that they are capable of winning the close games. The game I am referring to happened back on October 12 against then-No. 8 Lindenwood. The Sun Devils showed heart all night long as there were four lead changes in the third period alone and ASU proved that they could win games despite a poor showing from its defense or goaltending. Eleven different Sun Devils registered a point against the two-time ACHA champions and captains Colin Hekle and Danny McAuliffe each scored a power play goal.
The weekend before the Lindenwood series, ASU battled to beat Iowa State on the road and the maroon and gold was eager to gain some momentum before their home series. Even though the sweep against Lindenwood was not the prettiest wins of the season, the overall team performance was stronger in the Penn State and Oakland wins. Clearly the two victories showcased the Sun Devils depth and passion on the ice. Junior goaltender Joe D'Elia did not have the best weekend in net but it does not matter when his offense can score eleven in two days. Momentum changed ASU heavily that weekend, especially considering the team was hoping to become the top team in the league.
Brian Parson: Definitely Penn State. Another big one was beating Oakland, because we had a sour taste in our mouths from being knocked out of Nationals by them. But Penn State is definitely at the top right now, because they've definitely been our best competition.