The Sun Devils are still the top team in the ACHA, but they are in jeopardy of losing that reign if their minor slump continues. ASU has lost its last two ACHA games against two top ten opponents, and they did not play like the Sun Devils that won 18 straight games to start the season.
Should fans be concerned with the recent skid? The House of Sparky staff shares their mixed opinions but it seems like the Sun Devils should be able to return to their winning habits.
Nick Marek: Back-to-back ACHA losses is never a good thing and I hate to be the one to say this but ever since the Sun Devils beat Penn State, they have been a two-sided team. Are we going to see the team that deserves to be No. 1 or the team that scares the fans not knowing if their beloved Sun Devils can pull out the close victories?
We will get an answer to that question after this month when they play five top-20 ACHA teams. Consistency is what doomed ASU last season in the National Tournament and unfortunately, the team is starting to scare me again this winter. Robert Morris and Minot State are two very talented teams don’t get me wrong. The problem is that the Sun Devils seem to be improving at a very slow pace. Every week the players talk about getting better chemistry and building as a team but I have yet to see it.
Arizona State is still the best team in the ACHA based on pure talent, but it’s time to show the league that they have what it takes to go all the way. I want to see the entire package. One game, first year players Brian McGinty and Stephen Collins are the only two Sun Devils to score and then the next day, three veterans have multi-point games. This displays the Sun Devils’ talent and depth, but the problem is you never know who is going to give 110 percent rather than just 80.
Sports clichés aside, ASU has a chance to get back on track this coming weekend against Liberty and Stony Brook who are both on track to make the National Tournament in March. January is arguably the most difficult month for the Sun Devils and a three game sweep this weekend will show that the Sun Devils are learning from their tough losses and they will continue to be the front-runners to win the National Tournament. After starting the season 18-0, ASU has lost 4 of its last 8 games. One of those losses came against a British Columbian team that practices with the Vancouver Canucks and another came against Penn State. If they keep losing against battle-tested ACHA teams, the Sun Devils will be at risk of losing their No. 1 ranking.
I don’t mean to take a shot at the team but there are no more excuses. How hungry is this Sun Devil team? They have the most talent in the league, but now is the time to buckle down and take control of their own destiny. Three wins this weekend will be a step in the right direction.
Allyson Cummings: I’m going to go ahead and disagree a bit with you Nick. Yes losing back-to-back ACHA games is a bit scary, but I do not see this as a major problem.
To me, the Sun Devils have gotten a little bit complacent with their game and have simply fallen into a slump. Winning 19 straight ACHA games and 1 NCAA game against Penn State must have sunk into theirs heads. To put it simply, winning sort of became routine. I mean if you expect to win, you don’t try as hard as when something is on the line. When the maroon and gold came out with the 3-1 victory over Penn State there was a ton of urgency in the air. The truth is I’m just not seeing that on a regular basis.
A prime example of the lack of urgency was the 3-2 loss on Thursday night against Minot State. Wherever their heads were, it certainly wasn’t in the game. It wasn’t until the last few minutes when they needed to score two more goals did the momentum really shift. This sparked urgency amongst the team, because their record was suddenly at stake.
With all the talent on the team, this really should not be happening! If the players give their all for 60 straight minutes, I strongly believe that Stony Brook, Liberty, and any other ACHA team will not be able to keep up. But they need to play with urgency. I want to see the team from December
1stagainst Penn State, not the complacent team we have seen recently.
Luckily, this is where team Captain Colin Hekle steps in. He leads by example and has the potential to help turn this team around. He has been a fantastic leader so far both on and off the ice, and this is when he really needs to step in.
Not only that, but what about some of the senior athletes such as Ryan Clark or Brian Parson? This is their last season as a Sun Devil, and I know they don’t plan on losing. Trust me, I don’t even need to ask them if being the ACHA D1 Champion is on top of their to-do list. Believe me it is!
Someone needs to get this Sun Devil team fired up. With that, they will be pulled out of their slump and dominate once again.
Brad Denny: I'm not too worried.
As Nick mentioned, this team still has the talent edge over just about anyone else that they will face from this point forward, and that was recently bolstered with the addition of forward Kyle Bowen. That counts for something.
This "rough patch" really centers on a sharp increase in schedule difficulty. I won't say that the first half of the season was deceiving, as ASU is a damn good team, period. However, the slate that ASU has played recently and has up ahead is tough, and the team will struggle more than they have. It's bound to happen. It's sports.
Yet I think this is the best thing for the team. Head coach Greg Powers is not the kind of coach to allow his team to fall into complacency with a No. 1 ranking or a 20 win first half, but with a loss here and there and some adversity to overcome, this talented group has the opportunity to hone their mental toughness to the level of their on-ice skills.
If that happens, clear some space on the mantle.
Kerry Crowley: There is no doubt that this Arizona State team has the potential to dominate on a nightly basis. After watching the Sun Devils in the first half of their season, I have been impressed as they have exceeded my expectations for what a talented hockey team should look and play like.
That being said, we would be doing an injustice by not talking about this team's recent struggles. Nick mentioned that he is worried about this team's focus while Brad mentioned that even the best teams suffer momentary lapses.
In my opinion, the strength of the Sun Devils' schedule have finally caught up with this team. While other Arizona State teams play a PAC-12 schedule, the hockey team is a club sport and plays as an independent in the ACHA. Coach Powers made the decision to make the regular season a nightmare so that his team would be ready come National Tournament time.
If you saw Coach Powers after the two ACHA losses, you would realize his demeanor is unchanged and that he fully expected a let down at some point. In my opinion, Coach Powers' poise says it all.
When the bright lights of the postseason shine down upon the Sun Devils, there will not be a single team that is more battle tested and hungry for a victory. This team knows the feeling of a loss, and they know that losing focus for even a short period of time will hurt them. That is why I'm not worried and fully expect a dominating effort from the Sun Devils when it matters most.