(Photo: Allyson Cummings)
Coach Powers claims his team's swagger is back and fans will see that in full effect this weekend.
Arizona State hockey may have failed to sweep the Oklahoma schools, but they got a bigger win over the weekend. Forwards Kory Chisholm, Faiz Khan and Dan Stryna all returned to the ice.
Their return represents the notion that the Sun Devils are slowly, but surely getting completely healthy heading into the final month of the season. This weekend will be a game time decision for forwards Kale Dolinski and Liam Norris with their upper body injuries, but ASU is fortunate to be facing No. 15 Rhode Island.
The Rams travel to Tempe with two very good offensive lines, but then it tails off drastically. Senior forward David Macalino leads his team with 21 goals, 33 points and 6 game winners. With a little over a month left to play in the regular season, he is just nine goals and 17 points away from new career highs. A healthier Sun Devil lineup means head coach Greg Powers can utilize his team's depth and it gives him more freedom when he is trying to adjust the lines.
As good as Macalino may be, the Sun Devils boast arguably the best two lines in the entire ACHA. Captain Colin Hekle, Khan, and Styrna accounted for 10 of the team's 13 points against Central Oklahoma. This unstoppable top line baffled Penn State earlier this season by scoring four goals. Ever since the Penn State series, injuries have kept this line separated for nearly two full months.
"It's simple. I don't want to blame injury, per se, but I think it has something to do with it," Powers said. "Obviously, when you're missing that kind of firepower like we were, it's clear. Even putting in two of the three, with (Dan) Styrna, Faiz (Khan), and Kale (Dolinski), you saw what a difference it made. But when you add three, and then you add Liam (Norris), you're back to square one."
The offense is slowly coming back to form and should pepper the net of Rhode Island, but the forwards will have their hands full. Rhode Island has not played the most difficult schedule in the league, but their top two goaltenders, Paul Kenny and Andrew Sherman, each have goals against averages below 2.70 and a 93 save percentage. They mean business, but don't be surprised if ASU unloads for five or more goals thanks to having their swagger back.
On the defensive side of things, coach Powers shifted up the top three lines after losing top-line defenseman Jordan Young to injury over the weekend. Powers split up seniors Darcy Charrois, Brian Parson and Ryan Clark to give all three lines experience. This looked to be a good move considering the maroon and gold found their flow back.
After winning three straight games two weeks ago, it was evident that starting goaltender Joe D'Elia was due for a night (or two) off. All three goaltenders saw action in net for the Sun Devils last weekend. According to Coach Powers in Hell Frozen Over, none of them played their best hockey but he wasn't concerned because the team in front of his three goaltenders is still on the mend and they will be tough to beat down the stretch. Remember, the Sun Devils will need to win four games in five days to win the National Tournament in Chicago so more than likely D'Elia will need a night off during the tournament.
Arizona State now boasts three players with 40 or more points and Hekle regained the top spot on the team with 48 points. Captain Canada also leads the Devils with 26 assists and five short-handed goals.
I think Santa forgot Christmas is December 25, not January 25 but either way the Sun Devils were happy to see their skaters returning to the ice.
The puck drops at 8 p.m. on Friday night and 7:30 p.m. on Saturday in Oceanside Ice Arena. Two decisive victories would solidify the end of this "slump" and give the Sun Devils all the momentum next weekend when they seek 30 straight wins over the Arizona Wildcats.