(Photo: Hekle Photo Images)
Next up in our midseason review of the top ranked Sun Devils is a debate over the area that needs the biggest improvement.
We roll on with our midseason look at all things Sun Devil hockey.
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.
Kerry Crowley: One glance at the 20-2 record that the Arizona State hockey team compiled in the first half of their season should suffice in explaining how dominant the Sun Devils have been this season.
On a weekly basis, the Sun Devils compete against the top competition from around the country in the ACHA and routinely come away with convincing victories that leave their doubters ashamed. However, a closer look at the style of hockey Arizona State has played thus far reveals that the Sun Devils actually have quite a bit of room for improvement. Fortunately, that's just the way they want it.
Arizona State coach Greg Powers has reiterated throughout the season that he wants the Sun Devils playing their best hockey come National Tournament time in March, and by no means has his team come close to peaking yet. The Sun Devils have numerous areas for growth including playing more consistent defense, maintaining focus for all 60 minutes, and cutting down on game-changing penalties.
Perhaps the biggest weakness the Sun Devils have displayed so far is their propensity for slow starts. Arizona State may have 20 victories, but many of these games came down to critical plays in the second and third periods that only happened because the Sun Devils didn't start the game well.
Though the ACHA does not break down statistics on a period-by-period basis, any observers would agree that the Sun Devils are most vulnerable early on. In fact, Arizona State nearly lost a Cactus Cup game against the Arizona Wildcats earlier this season because they scored just one goal in the first 50 minutes.
In last weekend's loss against Robert Morris, all three of the Sun Devil goals came in the final 10 minutes of play after they allowed four Robert Morris goals in the first two periods. If the Sun Devils want to avoid another early exit in the National Tournament, they have to play well from the get-go lest they lose their chance at hoisting the ultimate prize.
Brad Denny: ASU defenseman Brian Parson told me recently that the "at the end of the day, with the team we have, the only team who will be us are ourselves."
Several times this season, the team has tried to put that to the test with costly and avoidable penalties. Whether they were the product of overaggressiveness, immaturity or sloppy play, the Sun Devils simply take far too many penalties.
Let's take a look at one game in particular: October 12th's battle against then-No. 6 Lindenwood.
ASU stormed out a a 2-0 lead in a dominant first period in which they outshot the Lions 18-5. However, two quick penalties gave Lindenwood a 5-on-3 which they quickly converted, and followed that up with another power play goal a minute later.
Now matter, ASU scored twice more in the period to take a 4-2 lead. But...
Two Jordan Young penalties resulted in two more Lion power play goals, and the Devils had to gut out a hard -fought pair of goals with under four minutes left to escape with the win.
Arizona State has the talent to cover for a great number of mistakes, including a run of penalties...for a while. But over the closing few months of the season, continued lapses in discipline will become an unsustainable strategy. If ASU can clean up their act and reduce the time in the box, they will be the heavy favorites to take home the national title.
Brian Parson: Showing up every day. When guys get complacent, they're not doing the little things right. Backchecking, turning the puck over on the blue line. So as long as the guys are doing the little things right and not trying to do too much and not trying to be the hero, we're in good shape. But when guys try to do too much with the puck, that's when we get into trouble.