ASU Hockey Game Preview: Sun Devils Prepare for Bout with No. 8 Liberty

Captain Colin Hekle looks to lead another win for ASU - (Photo: Hekle Photo Images)

The Sun Devils will look to score a big win over yet another tough team.

Arizona State's grueling second half of the season continues this weekend, with three games against Top 15 competition.

Stony Brook comes to town for a two-game set beginning on Friday, but first, the Sun Devils must do battle against the dangerous Liberty Flames.

ASU is in need of a big win after some recent struggles against top competition.

They dropped a 3-2 decision to No. 4 Minot State last Friday, and have notched losses against No. 2 Robert Morris and the University of British Columbia over the last month. Thursday's game against Liberty would help get the Sun Devils back to their dominant ways, but getting a win will be no easy task.

The Flame offense revolves around dynamic senior forward Rick Turner. His 30 goals are second in the ACHA and his 50 points are fourth-best in the league. A prolific player with a long reach, Turner is the team's clear go-to threat, as no other Liberty player is within 19 goals or 21 points of his totals. Clearly, Turner must be accounted for on every shift by the Sun Devil defense. Look for ASU's versatile and speedy defensemen Jordan Young and steely veteran Brian Parson to lead the effort to shut him down.

However, Liberty does have a few other players that can make the Sun Devils pay should they pay too much attention to Turner. The Flames have four other players with 10 goals on the year, including power play ace Ryley Egan, who has six of his 10 goals from the man advantage.

On the other end of the ice, Liberty's defense is middle-of-the-road, at best, and doesn't seem to match-up well with ASU's substantial offensive depth.

The blueline is anchored by the young tandem of freshman Steve Bellew and sophomore Cam Bakker, each with 17 points already. Juniors Matt Sherry and Jackson Kuhn bring experience and heft to the defense, as each are just over 200 pounds. Yet consistency has been lacking, and the unit has surrendered nearly 30 shots a game.

This should have the Sun Devils offense licking their chops. The Sun Devils bring eight players to the ice who have tallied 20 or more points on the year, which is the second-highest number of any team in the ACHA. Six players, led by Kale Dolinski (24) and Stephen Collins (22) have scored 10 or more goals.

Liberty's goalie tandem of Blair Bennett and Clayton Brown have struggled this year. Bennett, a junior, is the team's No. 1, but despite a solid 9-5 record, his 2.97 GAA ranks just 31st among ACHA goalies with over 300 minutes played this year. Brown has fared even worse. His GAA of 3.68 is 50th, and his .857 save percentage is a paltry 75th. Simply put, if ASU can get consistent shots on either player, they will score goals.

The Sun Devils will likely go with ace goaltender Joe D'Elia. Despite a rough recent stretch, he's still in the midst of a fine season, and continues to rank among the nation's top 20 in both GAA and save percentage.

Home ice advantage figures to play into ASU's favor. Liberty is just 3-4-0 this year away from home, and the cross-country venture has proven difficult for previous visitors to Oceanside Arena.

However, the Sun Devils have shown a unsettling recent trend of slow starts, which they will need to avoid against Liberty. Should Liberty gain an early edge and Turner gets on a roll, a comeback attempt could prove difficult.

Thursday's game will start at 8:30 p.m., and tickets can be found here.

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