2012 was a good year for the Arizona State Sun Devils.
They finished off a strong regular season by gaining the No. 4 seed in last season's national tournament, but were upset in the opening round. Undaunted, they opened up this current year with 20 wins in their first 22 games and have held the ACHA's No. 1 ranking since November 1st.
Head coach Greg Powers' talented squad is now looking for bigger and better things in 2013. They earned a hard fought split in their pair of games last weekend in the Great Northwest Showcase up in British Columbia, and now return to Tempe for their first home action of the new year. They'll be bringing with them a new weapon just added to their arsenal, which will be needed given the level of competition that awaits them.
Joining the team over the holiday break was freshman Kyle Bowen, a very talented forward from California. The 5-foot-10, 178 pounder comes to the team from the Lloydminster Bobcats of the AJHL, and saw action during ASU's trip in Canada. He will wear No. 22.
Bowen and the Devils will take the ice tonight when they host Minot State for a tough battle. The Beavers are currently 13-4 on the year and ranked No. 4 in the most recent ACHA standings.
Minot State's defense will present a stern challenge for the high-scoring Sun Devil offense. The Beavers have surrendered just 31 goals in their 17 games, thanks to the goalie tandem of Wyatt Waselenchuk and Riley Hengen. Both have been excellent, with Waselenchuk posting a 7-2 record, .935 save percentage and a 1.78 GAA in his 10 games, and Hengen is not far behind with a 6-2 mark, .932 save percentage and a 1.88 GAA.
The Beavers are not an explosive offense, put have several players that the Sun Devils must watch. The trio of Michael Jordan (yes, he wears No. 23), Logan Herauf and Garrett Ferguson lead the way was the only players who have scored 10 or more goals.
One interesting trend regarding Minot State is their steep dropoff on the road. At home this season, they are a a perfect 7-0 with a dominant 47-4 goal differential. However, get them on unfamiliar ice and they are a pedestrian 6-4 with an average 32-27 differential. This could factor into ASU's favor if they are able to jump out to an early lead and stay out of the box.
On Friday night, the Devils figure to have a little easier time as they will host Williston State, a team from the NJCAA.
The Tetons are in their second year of fielding a hockey program, but earlier this year they did score a shocking 2-1 win over their North Dakota brethren in Minot State. However, that game appears to have been a fluke, as Minot State has trounced the Tetons 14-1 in their next two meetings. In fact, Williston State has not scored another win over an upper division team, with six of their other seven wins coming against ACHA Division 2 or 3 or NJCAA teams. The Tetons are in a funk, having dropped five of their last six games preceding their trip to Arizona to play the Wildcats on Thursday before Friday's game in Tempe.
Nevertheless, ASU shouldn't overlook Williston, as they have a capable goaltender in sophomore Cory McMahon whose effort led their win over Minot State earlier in the year.
It should be an exciting pair of games for the Sun Devils in their 2013 home debut as they look to prime themselves for a run at a national title. Thursday's game starts at 8:30 p.m. while Friday's clash with Williston State begins at 8 p.m.