The second-ranked Arizona State hockey takes on rival Arizona this weekend in Tucson. The Wildcats are ranked 17th in the ACHA, while the Sun Devils are looking to win their 28th in a row against the team down south.
ASU is the only remaining unbeaten team in the ACHA with an unblemished 11-0 record. The maroon-and-gold have already defeated the Wildcats twice this year in 11-3 and 4-1 fashions. Here are the five things the Sun Devils need to do on the road this weekend to remain undefeated and increase their impressive win streak against their cross state rival.
The first time these two teams met this season, the Sun Devils committed 38 penalty minutes. Fortunately, ASU gave up only one power play goal to U of A in late September. It does not matter if it is a rivalry match-up; that number needs to decrease for Arizona State hockey to succeed on the road.
This past weekend, the Sun Devils racked up 40 penalty minutes against No. 20 Eastern Michigan and Division 2 opponent Colorado State. Limiting the time spent in the box could dictate the momentum in this weekend series. Keep in mind that the Sun Devils have 20 powerplay goals and four shorthanded goals in 11 games this season while the Wildcats have ten powerplay goals and one shorthanded tally.
2. Veteran Leadership
Winning 26 games in a row against one team is not an easy task. Junior captains Colin Hekle and Kale Dolinski and senior Dan Styrna knows what it takes to beat the Wildcats year after year. The three of them have combined for 32 goals and 42 assists in their Sun Devil careers against U of A.
The offense has always clicked for the Sun Devils in the Cactus Cup. Last year, the team averaged 5.4 goals per game against their rival and 6.8 goals a year before that. The veterans have to be the leaders this season because the newcomers have never experienced playing in Tucson. Oh, and Hekle has an 11-game point streak on the line.
3. All Eyes Are Still On 2012 Recruiting Class
I understand that I just highlighted the importance of veteran leadership, but head coach Greg Powers' 2012 recruiting class has contributed 34-percent of Arizona State's points this season. Stephen Collins, Brian McGinty and Jordan Young all scored a goal against the Wildcats earlier this year.
This class has been highly praised by Powers up to this point, but it would prove a lot more if they can contribute in a road sweep against U of A.
4. Quick Start
Last weekend was not the easiest weekend for Arizona State. The Sun Devils were losing 1-0 after the first period against a ranked Eastern Michigan team and they were tied at one against Colorado State the following night. Of ASU's 13 goals last weekend, 12 of them were scored after the first twenty minutes of play. A sluggish start in Tucson may be even worst considering Arizona poses a stronger test than the Rams and Eagles.
In the only road test of the season against top ten Iowa State, the Sun Devils had to come from behind in multiple occasions, including a 4-3, overtime victory on October 5. The Sun Devils need to come out firing the second they step foot on the ice otherwise the Wildcats and their hockey religious fans will make the maroon and gold pay.
5. Who Starts In Net?
Coach Powers has referred to Joe D'Elia as his number one goaltender, but Corey Frank and Kyle Dietriech have started in four of the team's eleven games this season. With an 11-0 record, there is nothing negative to say about the goaltender's performances.
D'Elia has only played in two of the past five games dating back to the Lindenwood series. Believe it or not, D'Elia's 2.28 goals against and 89 save percentage is the worst of the three. That solidifies Powers' point that he has the best goaltending trio in the ACHA. Even though it can be a luxury, ASU needs to straighten out its situation in net before the season progresses. Any of the three can take over the duties between the pipes, but consistency would be the best thing for ASU in the long run.