We roll on with our midseason look at all things Sun Devil hockey.
Earlier in the series, Nick Marek handed out some grades and we debated what was in fact the team's biggest win.
Now we make our picks as to what has been the team's biggest strength over the first half. Joining the House of Sparky staff once again will be ASU senior defenseman Brian Parson.
Nick Marek: This season has been full of positive signs for the Sun Devils and their number one ranking speaks more than words can express. But what many fans may be overlooking is what I like to call the team's clutch factor.
Yes, ASU has already won 20 games. Yes, the offense has been inspiring. And yes, the recruiting class is arguably the best in program history. We would be talking about the "what-ifs" this winter if the Sun Devils were unable to win the close games.
In the first road test of the season, ASU played a top 15 opponent in Iowa State and beat them by one goal in regulation and overtime on back-to-back October nights. The next weekend, the maroon and gold escaped with a one-goal victory over Lindenwood University. The Sun Devils have had their share of blowout victories, but seven victories were decided by two goals or less. That means your beloved Sun Devils are 7-1 in two-goal contests.
Last season was a completely different story as they went 11-7 following those same parameters. The first three months of this season have been nothing but a full team effort and if the boys lost even two more of those close games, I think they would be ranked third in the ACHA instead of number one. That's clutch.
It should also be noted that six Sun Devils already have more points than games played this season and the team will continue to grow after the holidays. If Stephen Collins was sick before scoring the game winning shootout goal against Oakland, if Faiz Khan couldn't handle the white-out in Tucson, or if Kale Dolinski had to miss the Penn State series, we would not be bragging about the Sun Devils phenomenal first half performance. Arizona State hockey has stolen the ACHA spotlight and they should be proud of that, but they still have their work cut out for them in the second half.
If my New Years wish for a 2013-14 NHL season doesn't come true, then I would appreciate a number one finish from Arizona State hockey with the National Champion hardware taking a trip to Tempe.
Allyson Cummings: For me the biggest strength so far has been the goaltending for ASU. It's easy to focus your attention on the explosive offensive lines that the Sun Devils have, but what really has been clutch so far this year is the goaltending trio. You really cannot go wrong with Joe D'Elia, Kyle Dietriech, or Corey Frank.
Let's take a look at all of the big wins so far on the season for the Sun Devils, and you can immediately trace them back to the goaltending.
The first game I want to take a look at is the November 3rd game against rival U of A down in Tucson. Joe D'Elia blocked 44 of the 45 shots taken on net, which opened the door for forward Faiz Khan to win the game for ASU in the third period. The next game was the shoot out victory on November 8th against Oakland. In that game D'Elia stopped 27 of the 29 shots on net, not to mention he was able to remain focused and calm during the shoot out, allowing freshman Stephen Collins the chance to eventually score the game winner. Lastly, the December 1st game against NCAA D-I Penn State, D'Elia blocked 36 of the 37 shots in the game that I called the biggest victory of the first half.
The bottom line is that none of these victories would have happened without the stellar performance from the maroon and gold's goaltending.
Kerry Crowley: Last season, the Arizona State hockey team had the potential to win a national championship, but failed to protect a two-goal lead against the Oakland Golden Grizzlies in the ACHA National Tournament.
Though the Sun Devils return many pieces from last season's talented squad, they receive their biggest boost from sources that didn't contribute last season. In the offseason, Coach Greg Powers secured the best recruiting class in Sun Devil history when he landed Stephen Collins, Brian McGinty, Faiz Khan, Jordan Young, Brett Blomgren, and Kory Chisholm.
Without these six players, the Sun Devil roster would assuredly rank among the ACHA's best. With the newcomers, Arizona State is downright elite.
Stephen Collins and Brian McGinty have earned consistent playing time on Coach Powers' first line, and have statistics to justify their coach's decision. Each of these two players has 29 points, and Collins is one of just two Sun Devils to reach the 20-goal marker this season.
Jordan Young and Brett Blomgren have provided the Sun Devils with a needed boost on the defensive end of the ice, and Young has even proven to be a lethal contributor offensively as he has already contributed 21 points.
Finally, Faiz Khan and Kory Chisholm give the Sun Devils another element that sets this team apart. While the pair of forwards has combined for just 19 points this season, their grind-it-out style of play has helped Arizona State wear down its opponents.
When the Sun Devils return to the ice in the second half of their season, these six newcomers will have 20 games under their belts and will continue to improve. In the second half of the season, expect their production to increase even more as they take on expanded roles within Arizona State's system.
The newcomers have made this team elite, and now it's time to for them to make this team the ACHA champions.
Brad Denny: Picking a single strength and naming it the "best" is a difficult task for this squad.
From goaltending to goal scoring to head coach Greg Powers, this is a team built for success from the ground up, but to me, the element that I find most essential to victory has been the depth.
The roster assembled by Powers has continually gotten better over his tenure, and as Kerry illustrates above, this year's recruiting class may be the best yet. Those newcomers joined an already lethal core that helped lead ASU to a No. 3 seed in last year's national tournament.
Your are an opposing coach. Who do you try to shut down? Kale Dolinksi? Stephen Collins? Colin Hekle? Say you've done the impossible and taken those guys out of the game, that still leaves playmakers like Danny McAuliffe and Brian McGinty to beat you. Or Jordan Young. Or Dan Styrna. Or...well, you get the point.
This team is deep up front, and deep in back. Whether it's the five forwards who rank in the top 50 in the nation in points, or a goaltending corps in which all three guys could start for a great number of teams, this team can beat you in a lot of ways. And then some...
Brian Parson: Especially of late, guys have been buying in more in the defensive zone. We have such a talented team that goals are going to come, regardless. Guys have just been doing a better job of our defensive zone and taking care of pucks out of our net. We're always going to get the puck up the ice, and our forwards are going to create some opportunities and goals.