Oceanside Ice Arena turns on its lights in a matter of days as the Arizona State hockey team prepares for its 2013-14 season.
After losing in the ACHA Final Four, the Sun Devils return some of the best talent in the league and all eyes will be on the maroon and gold this season.
Despite losing a handful of starters, do not be surprised if Greg Powers and company are No. 1 in the preseason poll. This year's team has a handful of senior leaders, but also a talented group of underclassmen eager to represent the future of ASU hockey.
"I'm most focused on ways to ensure we have a healthy room, good chemistry, and most importantly, we are strategically sound in our approach and everyone is on the same page," Powers said.
Health became the Sun Devils' Achilles' heel last season and Powers was forced to juggle the lines on nearly a daily basis. The good news for Powers is that competition this year will be tougher than ever because Arizona State appears to have even more options than last year's team.
"I think if a coach says he doesn't sit down and think up different combos and possibilities this close to the season, he's flat out lying," Powers said. "In seasons past, its been pretty easy but the blunt truth is despite how hard I've tried to predict at least to myself what our lineup will be at literally every position, let alone line combos, I just can't at this point. Our depth is ridiculous and that is a fact. We have been a deep team but I believe this is a completely different level of deep for teams at our level."
The short and sweet answer to why it will be so difficult for Powers to decide this season is because he brought in nine more offensive recruits, but he only lost five.
Now that the recruits have moved in and are getting adjusted to the college lifestyle and their future teammates, let's take an early look at how the depth chart could pan out.
Stephen Collins (transfer - personal reasons)
Chris Blessing (sophomore transfer - Univ. of Wisconsin River Falls)
OFFENSE LINE PREDICTIONS AT A GLANCE
1: Faiz Khan - Colin Hekle - Sean Murphy
2: Kale Dolinksi - Liam Norris - Danny McAuliffe
3: Chris Blessing - Brian McGinty - Eric Rivard
4: Patrick Yudez - Chris Burkemper - Ryan Ostertag
First Line: Khan-Hekle-Murphy
It's not a surprise that Hekle anchors the top line for the Sun Devils. Despite the rumors of Captain Canada possibly shifting to defense due to the overload of offensive talent, Hekle should finish his career as the team's top-line center.
Last season, he led all Sun Devils with 31 assists and 13 special team goals. He was also second with 55 points, third on the team with 24 goals, and he contributes on both the power play and penalty kill units.
Khan is a perfect supplement to Hekle and this combo put the ACHA on the map last season when they teamed up with Dan Styrna. Their chemistry is undeniable. The Penn State series was the second weekend the two played together and their line combined for nine of the team's 13 points in Happy Valley.
The Newhall, California native missed a month of the season directly after the Penn State trip, but he finished the year averaging 0.77 points per game and those numbers should skyrocket to more than a point per game.
The real question of this top line is who will replace Dan Styrna?
In year's past, coach Powers has tried to match up at least one newcomer in the top two lines and this year should be no different. This one is a little harder to tell, but it would appear based on junior hockey that Sean Murphy has a slightly more developed skill set than some of the other incoming freshman.
Murphy has junior hockey experience in the USHL and the NAHL. Last season, the 20-year-old led the Soo Eagles with four points and a plus-five rating in six playoff games. He finished third on the team with 17 goals and fourth with 36 points.
Not impressed? He put up those numbers in 28 games compared to the team leader playing in 60 games. Murphy appears to have the edge to start on the top line at right wing.
Other Option: Eric Rivard
Honestly, flip a coin between Rivard and Murphy. They both played for the Soo Eagles last year, but Rivards' stats were better (24G, 39A, 63P) because he played in 30 more games than Murphy.
Hekle and Khan are good all-around skaters so a scoring threat like Murphy fits them better. However, if Powers would like some added grit to his first line, then Rivard would be your man.
Second Line: Dolinski-Norris-McAuliffe
This is the line that appears most likely to stick come September 20 based on its chemistry and knack for scoring.
"I think right now the only full line combo I'm comfortable saying will almost surely will be together will be Kale, Liam, and Danny," Powers said. "Nobody can deny the chemistry they have and how well they compliment and support each other."
Dolinski was a first team ACHA All-American and he and McAuliffe return to ASU with an "A" on their sweaters. The rising seniors were first and third on the team in points as Dolinski led the way with 59 points in 38 games and a team MVP honor.
Liam Norris is a playmaking center for the two wingers and when he was healthy last season, the Calgary, Alberta native lit it up. He had 15 assists and 19 points in 19 games but missed the majority of the season with an upper body injury.
Assuming the injury bug finds a new home away from Tempe, this line meshes almost perfectly and will be set up for success this season because the team's overall depth will relieve some pressure.
Other Option: Brian McGinty
Even though Powers is most confident that this line combo will remain together, an injury or a slow period could bump the former DI transfer into a second line role.
McGinty played in the top two lines almost all of last year, but it's more likely that he will anchor an impressive third line.
Third Line: Blessing-McGinty-Rivard
McGinty is the clear-cut option to center the third line, but the makeup of this line will be slightly different than what most teams expect out of a third line. Typically, this would be considered solely a checking line. The difference is that this line also has the ability to score.
McGinty is prepared for big things this season and honestly could play top line on almost every other team in the ACHA. But his leadership and scoring ability will be critical to making the line a serious threat to the rest of the league.
Last season, McGinty finished top five on the team in goals (16), assists (28) and points (44). What could help the team even more is that he can take some time on the power play unit.
What makes this line come together are his two new wingers. Eric Rivard fits this role perfectly because he is the more typical third line forward due to the grit he brings with his game.
Rivard finished second on his playoff team with 63 points and a plus-20 rating. The reason he fits better on the third line compared to the top line is that he accumulated 109 penalty minutes last season, which led the team. In fact, he has at least 70 PIM in every season since he began playing junior hockey in the NAHL back in 2009.
That makes Chris Blessing the missing link on this line. Blessing is not a typical goal scorer, but that does not stop him on the ice. He's transferring from the University of Wisconsin River Falls after playing in just nine games.
Before that, though, he was a workhorse in juniors and should bring that mentality to Tempe if he wants to earn a starting spot this fall.
Other Option: Zack Holstrom
Holstrom may be the biggest sleeper of any newcomer on this team. He has an opportunity to play on any line because he brings speed, determination and a knack for getting in the dirty areas.
His offensive productivity at the junior level does not show like some of the other incoming recruits - he had six goals and 18 assists in 50 NAHL games last year - but he can play.
He is a bit undersized (5-foot-8, 160 pounds) but he has raw talent and it will be important to see how he fits in with the Sun Devils when training camp starts next week.
Fourth Line: Yudez-Burkemper-Ostertag
This line is where all the question marks begin. Coach Powers has the option of playing a line with a lot of upside or going with an experienced core that works every shift and grinds it out on both ends of the rink.
Because ASU hockey fans are already aware of the returners, let's find out about some new faces who very well could steal spots in the starting lines.
Patrick Yudez fits Powers' role as a two-way forward on the fourth line and he is the more traditional grind-it-out type of fourth-liner. In three seasons with the NAHL Wichita Falls Wildcats, he scored 19 goals and 22 assists. But the Broomfield, Colorado native plays bigger than his 6-foot-1, 180-pound frame.
Chris Burkemper has been on Powers' radar since the start of recruiting so it would make sense if he found a home on the starting lines. He moves well on the ice and he chose ASU over a couple of DI options, but what makes him a good fit for this line is that he can slow down the play and set up the offense.
Ryan Ostertag has an opportunity to make an immediate impact on this team as well. Powers told sundevilhockey.com reporter Mitch Terrell that "(Ryan) had a monster year in Weyburn that really put him on the map in the SJHL as a top player in that league."
Ostertag racked up 22 goals and 22 assists in 41 games and he's another Canadian skater from Saskatchewan.
There are plenty of other players in the hunt for a starting role so we may have to wait until after training camp to figure out our fourth and final starting line.
Other Options: Good luck, coach!
The obvious combo that stands out is the Scott-Bowen-Chisholm line that emerged during last year's ACHA playoffs. This combo played some of the best hockey during the tournament and they could raise some eyebrows again this season if Powers decides to go with a more experienced look.
Troy Scott had two assists and current sophomore Kyle Bowen scored twice in three playoff games and bruised the Arizona Wildcats to end the regular season. Dave Jantzie also had a goal and two assists during the playoffs so the senior will be on coach's radar for a starting spot.
Other forwards battling for a spot:
Senior David Jantzie (8G, 9A, 44 games)
Senior Troy Scott (2G, 7A, 40 games)
Junior Ben Findlay (6G, 2A, 33 games)
Sophomore Kyle Bowen (6G, 2A, 22 games)
Sophomore Kory Chisholm (3G, 4A, 31 games)
Freshman Zack Holstrom (6G, 18A, 50 games for two teams in NAHL)
Freshman Tom Cooney (6G, 10A, 48 games for the Springfield Blues in the NAHL)
Freshman Michael Cummings (15G, 10A, 18 games for Phoenix Knights in WSHL)
Conditioning and training camps in the next two weeks are going to be competitive because coach has to figure out which forwards will make the DI roster. The roster will be finalized one September 6, one day after the Maroon and Gold scrimmage game.