(Photo: Allyson Cummings)
Our midseason review rolls on with a look at how the Sun Devils should do over the final few months.
The holiday break for Sun Devil hockey is winding down, as the team embarks upon their Canadian road trip next week.
But for now, our midseason review series should be able to hold you over.
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: When ACHA play resumes in 2013, the Arizona State hockey team will take the ice for the second half of their rigorous schedule defending their No. 1 overall ranking. While the Sun Devils did not come into the season as the top team in the land, their ascent to the coveted spot did not take long.
Arizona State possesses the deepest roster in the ACHA, and the three week midseason break has helped the Sun Devils recover from a rough patch spanning late November and early December that saw a number of different players suffer injuries.
After posting a 19-1 record in league games in the first half of the season and notching a victory over NCAA Division 1 opponent Penn State, it would be easy to say the Sun Devils have hit their stride. However, this is far from the truth.
In fact, the Sun Devils have so much potential to improve in the second half that their early season success looks downright astounding.
Newcomers including Jordan Young, Stephen Collins, and Brian McGinty have meshed well, but they now have a chance to further develop chemistry with their line mates.
Goalie Joe D'Elia has posted remarkable statistics such as his 2.05 goals allowed average and a 92 percent save mark. Come springtime, D'Elia will have more starts under his belt and should grow more comfortable with the tendencies of his defensemen.
Finally, Arizona State has two of the best players, and leaders, in the ACHA. Colin Hekle and Kale Dolinski have combined for 73 points in 22 games and contributed 40 goals to the Sun Devil cause thus far. With so much firepower, it's hard to imagine the Sun Devils losing another game.
The Sun Devil players have reiterated throughout the season that anything less than a national title will be considered a letdown, but by the looks of it, the Sun Devils will not be stopped.
Nick Marek: The Sun Devils are the number one team in the ACHA for a reason. Do I think that's going to change anytime soon? I say it is highly unlikely that any team can dethrone the Sun Devils.
ASU has a 20-2 record heading into the Canadian showcase at the end of the month against some prestigious junior teams and the Sun Devils' schedule does not get easier in the second half. They will play plenty of top 20 ACHA opponents, including three games against No. 4 Minot State and three games against the Oklahoma schools. There are still 19 games left in the regular season and it would be a tremendous achievement for this team to finish 37-4 heading into the National Tournament.
I expect ASU to finish the season as the top team in the league because we all recognize how strong the Sun Devils truly are. For this first time ever in our House of Sparky Hockey Roundtable history, the four of us all had different responses to the Sun Devils biggest strength of the season.
Allyson went with goaltending, Brad loved the overall depth of the team, Kerry was astonished by the newcomers, and I liked how the Sun Devils were able to win the close games.
To me, that sums up how good the maroon and gold really is. The Sun Devils outmatch nearly every opponent they play on paper and for the most part they have showed it on the rink as well.
I am expecting just as good of a second half of the season and the Sun Devils should be the early favorites to win the National Championship in March. The one thing that concerns me is the team's health. Some ACHA fans are skeptical of the Sun Devils' defense as of that but they are slowly coming together and communicating more. Remember - there are three freshmen defensemen on the active roster, but there are plenty of injuries to the forwards.
The Sun Devils lost senior forward Brett Prechel less than a month into the season, Liam Norris has been out for nearly a month, and forwards Ben Findlay, Dan Styrna, Faiz Khan and Kory Chisholm all missed game two against Robert Morris either due to injury or sickness. Winter break came at a perfect time for ASU because it gives them time to heal before the tough stretch continues in January. ASU has six games in a ten day span once they come back for the spring semester.
Despite the injuries, the team is still strong enough to succeed in the second half but this Sun Devil team could go down in the record books as one of the best ACHA teams in recent years if they can stay healthy.
Brad Denny: The first half was nearly perfect, and while the second half should see continued success, it won't be easy.
The second half schedule has 19 more games, and 15 of those come against teams currently in the top 20 in the ACHA rankings, and two others will be very difficult games in their upcoming road trip to British Columbia. That's far from a cake walk.
Yet this team is special. Yes, they're exceedingly talented and deep. But more importantly, they are gritty. They battle. They are resilient. Every time they've been faced with adversity, they've responded in a major way.
Blow a late lead to Lindenwood? No problem, we'll score some last minute goals. Lose another lead in gut-wrenching fashion to mortal nemesis Oakland? That's fine, we got this. How about a blowout loss to Penn State? Here comes a historic win.
Overcoming such obstacles has made this a mentally tougher team, and taken them from good to great. It has better prepared the team for the battles ahead, and for the hard road through the national tournament.
While the second half of the year may contain a few more losses during the brutal upcoming schedule, this ASU team should be better. At this point, it's hard to not see them as the clear favorites to win the national championship.
Brian Parson: At the end of the day, with the team we have, the only team who will be us are ourselves. When we were playing Penn State, everyone was playing at the top of their game, and seeing what we were capable of against teams like that. If we play like that in Nationals, I don't care who we play, were going to beat them by at least five goals