Sun Devils' sneak peak at Illinois weekend

The Sun Devils will attempt to use the momentum from beating Arizona against a top five opponent in Illinois.

Before Saturday night, October 2009 was the last time Arizona State hockey shut out the University of Arizona and it was the first time since February 2004 that the Wildcats only scored one goal in the Cactus Cup showdown.

To give you an idea of the significance of 2004, Usher's hit single "Yeah!" topped the Billboard charts and Shrek 2 made over 100 millions dollars.

Arizona State outscored Arizona 11-1 this past weekend thanks in part to its highly praised depth. Forwards Sean Murphy, Chris Blessing, Zack Holstrom and defenseman Brett Prechel each missed one game over the weekend and Arizona State still took care of business against their rival from the south.

With so much attention on the team's overall depth this offseason, head coach Greg Powers put it to the test that he truly does have six forward lines and four defensive pairings he can play any weekend. The real question is can his team handle the added pressure of playing in a big environment on the road?

Three Things to Watch

1. The freshman class is no fluke

Arguably, the surprise of the first five games has been how much Chris Burkemper is contributing on the team's third and fourth lines. He leads the team with five goals and he is also top five on the team in points along with his linemate Holstrom.

Greg Powers has demonstrated his depth much more this year compared to years past because all four forward lines get plenty of ice time and each player has a positive plus-minus rating.

Alex Temby also had a productive weekend on the blue line against the Wildcats. He tallied three points, including a cannon of a goal to break away from Wilbur's team in the Friday night game.

Freshman goaltender Robert Levin recorded back-to-back shutouts in his last two starts, stopping all 37 shots he faced. The Highland Park, Ill. native gives the Sun Devils the best one-two goaltender punch in the ACHA when you pair him with Joe D'Elia. Fans could expect D'Elia to face the Illini on Friday night because he played in their rink during the ACHA National Championship playoffs and knows what it takes to beat them.

Coach Powers will more than likely split the time between the pipes pretty evenly between these two netminders until the holiday season rolls around.

The scariest part of all is that this crop of recruits is still in the growing process so they are nowhere close to reaching their peak with the program and touted freshman Eric Rivard is still waiting to lace up his skates in a few weeks.

This team has fit together as if they have been playing together for years, but the real test may come this weekend to see if they can handle a tough road battle against No.4 Illinois.

2. Dolinski's line is better than Hekle's?

The two may be too hard to compare, but Dolinski's line has out performed Hekle's through the first three weeks of the season. Part of that is slanted because Liam Norris, Danny McAuliffe and Kale Dolinski have been known as three of the most dangerous Wildcat killers, but I'm not sure anyone expected for this line to be this good this early.

There is no denying this line has always had chemistry because they came into camp as if they played together all summer. Over the weekend, Norris made a pass to Dolinski from behind the net that defied physics and the three have picked up right where they left off when they were healthy last season.

The three upperclassmen combine for nine goals and 18 assists in four games (they all sat out in the second game against San Diego State to open the season). For the non-math wizards, the team's top line contributes 6.75 points per game.

As for Captain Canada's line, it just needs a few more weekends fine tuning some nuts and bolts before their names start flooding the stat sheets like they did last season. Sean Murphy proved that he is a game changer scoring four goals and three assists through four games, but Faiz Khan and Colin Hekle are still learning how they all work together and it's nothing that time can't fix.

The ironic part is even though Dolinski's line has outperformed Hekle's, the Sun Devils' second line racked up eight goals and six assists in the same frame. Regardless, the leadership of the top two lines will dictate how composed ASU is on the road and they will prove whether or not the team deserves a shot to be No.1 in the country.

3. Show us more

This Sun Devil team seemed to waste no time after losing two, top-six forwards and three starting defenseman during the summer. They did what all great programs do: reload.

The Illinois lost three of its top five point producers in Scott Barrera, Austin Bostock and Mike Evans. But the one key piece they return from last year's roster is senior goaltender Nick Clarke who is off to a hot start with a 1.93 goals against average and a .922 save percentage.

This is relevant for two reasons. First, Arizona State beat Clarke 3-1 just a matter of months ago, but Clarke stopped 39 of the 41 shots he faced. This time around it will be all about the Sun Devils' offense applying pressure early. The last thing Arizona State needs is to give their opposing defense confidence and an early lead.

Arizona State was outplayed by the Wildcats for the first 30 minutes of the Saturday night game, but they still managed to win 6-0. Slow starts cannot happen on the road and ASU got its first taste of physical hockey.

Second, with all the new additions to ASU, it's time that they prove how talented the program truly is. Sure, it's great outscoring opponents 44-3 to start the season but a signature sweep on the road will prove that this team deserves the hype they have been receiving. Head coach Nick Fabbrini has done a fantastic job getting Illinois back on the map, but can he keep it close against the Sun Devils?

Besides, Tempe needs someone to root for after the heartbreaking football loss to Notre Dame in Dallas. Another four or five-goal spread would be exactly what ASU fans want to see.

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