(Hekle Photo Images)
The Sun Devils advanced to the 2013 ACHA National Tournament Semifinals and will play a prestigious Lindenwood team.
Beat Penn State - check.
Sweep the Wildcats - check.
Be No.1 team in the ACHA - check.
Make a Final Four appearance - check.
Winning the 2013 American Collegiate Hockey Association National Championship is the only thing the Sun Devils have left to check off their season to-do list.
Arizona State beat Rutgers and Illinois to advance to the Final Four and its road to the championship is underway with Lindenwood University as the potential first victim. No. 3 Minot State and No. 4 Ohio are the other two teams in the National Semi Finals.
Arizona State hockey swept the Lindenwood Lions for the first time in program history earlier this season in 6-5 and 5-3 fashion.
Captain Colin Hekle lead all Devils over that October weekend with three goals and two assists and Danny McAuliffe scored four points (2G, 2A) against the Lions. Both games were extremely close and were decided late in the third period.
Arizona State knows that they will have their work cut out for them again on Tuesday night, but they have gained confidence in the first two games of the National Tournament. In the win against Rutgers, every skater except two recorded at least one point.
Against the Illini, the Dave Jantzie, Stephen Collins and Brian McGinty line played their best hockey of the season and opened the game up with a beautiful backdoor goal. The three forwards did all the little things well on both ends of the rinks and hustled hard to disrupt some of Illinois' best forwards.
Goaltender Joe D'Elia stopped 49 of the 52 shots he faced in the opening two rounds. The Sun Devils have stayed healthy through the weekend and looked like the Sun Devils we became accustomed to in the first half of the season.
It did not take long for the chemistry to click in Bensenville, Illinois and Arizona State is only two wins away from bringing a championship back to Tempe.
Currently, Kale Dolinski leads the Sun Devils in the National Tournament with two goals and two assists and McAuliffe and McGinty both have a goal and two assists. But do not look past the Lions considering they are playing some of their best hockey of the season as well, knocking off No. 8 Davenport and No. 1 Adrian to advance to the semifinals.
Lindenwood scored ten goals in two games with Steve Branchaeu and Jeremy Meletti combining for half of the Lions' goals. Starting goaltender Linus Ahgren faced 86 shots on goal so he will be more than prepared to take a beating against ASU's quick offense.
The difference between the two teams is that Arizona State is a fundmentally sound program on both ends of the rink that has recently re-found its offense thanks to its healthy roster. The second half of the season displayed how well the Sun Devils' defense really is and they do not make many mistakes.
Lindenwood is a more physical team that uses its size and hard work in the defensive end to turn into offense. Lindenwood did struggle in the first two periods against Adrian, however, because they could not skate their way into the offensive zone.
They succeeded when they won battles in the neutral zone and simplified their offense with shorter passes and more movement on the offensive side. The Sun Devils can advance to the finals is they disrupt the Lions' flow in their own end of the rink.
Lindenwood's defensemen typically work deep in the zone, which could give the Sun Devils more opportunities and space to set up their offense. The team from Missouri will give the Sun Devils a test in Chicago, but ASU may be too hot to stop.
Their mission to advance to the tournament finals begins Tuesday night at 7 p.m. Arizona time and the championship game is Wednesday at 6 p.m.