After a well deserved week off for the Thanksgiving holiday, the top-ranked team in the ACHA is back in action this week in what figures to be one of their most difficult challenges in recent memory.
The Sun Devils have traveled east to Happy Valley to take on the Penn State. The Nittany Lions are now in their first season at the NCAA level after moving up from the ACHA ranks
Earlier today, our Nick Marek gave his full series preview, and now the House of Sparky staff is here to break down how we think this important series will go, and joining us in this predictions are two special guests.
First is Mitch Terrell, the Assistant Sports Editor for The State Press and a man very dialed into Sun Devil hockey. Be sure to follow him on Twitter and check out all his great articles.
We're also joined by Allyson Cummings, whose great photography you've seen here on House of Sparky. She also covers Sun Devil athletics for the Cronkite Sports Network at ASU, and you can find her on Twitter here.
Now on to the predictions...
Mitch: ASU sweeps PSU, outscoring 7-3
The series with Penn State will truly be the toughest test for ASU hockey this season. However, the Sun Devil players all come from deep hockey backgrounds and seem to live for games like these. Their best hockey comes out when playing tough opponents, and they tend to shine. After watching the team in Oklahoma, and the way they man-handled both No. 8 OU and No. 16 Central Oklahoma, the team looks to be gelling and playing the best all-around game as a group thus far this season. Everyone on the team is stepping up and playing their part to the best of their ability to produce quality 60-minute performances on the ice. The expectations for this weekend will not be any different, as the Sun Devils will make a statement this weekend in Happy Valley with a close game on Friday night before getting comfortable for a multi-goal victory on Saturday.
Series MVP: The most valuable player for ASU will definitely be junior goaltender Joseph D'Elia. The way he has been playing his last three starts—let alone for the season—has been nothing shy of remarkable, and coach Greg Powers and the team expect nothing less than a great performance by D'Elia. In his last five starts, D'Elia has only one game where he has allowed more than one goal and don't see that happening at Penn State.
Brad: ASU splits the series
There's a reason that Penn State is now a Division I team in the NCAA—they're really good. Really, really good. This will be the most challenging series that the Sun Devils have faced all season, and it will be all the more difficult by playing on the road. ASU's offense has been quite good all season, averaging 6.3 goal-per-game and they've beaten some talented netminders in the process. However, they may not have faced one the caliber of Nittany Lion goalie Matthew Skoff, and goals will be at a premium. To me, that sets the table for a hard fought, defensive minded series. In order to get a split of better in Happy Valley, the Sun Devil defense must be at the top of their game and, most importantly, Joe D'Elia must be exceptional, as he has been all year long. I expect that D'Elia will have a strong series, and each team should skate away with a one-goal victory.
Series MVP: ASU goalie Joe D'Elia
Nick: ASU splits the series
This weekend for Sun Devil Hockey will give us some indication of how the season has progressed thus far. It ultimately will not matter if ASU gets swept this weekend because they are playing an NCAA D1 team and it will not harm their ACHA standing. Instead, these games will demonstrate just how far the Sun Devils have come since late September. Penn State is just a year removed from being the top team in the ACHA and they have a handful of new NCAA scholarship players on their roster so we do not know a lot about the Nittany Lions because it is difficult to compare NCAA opponents to the ACHA since it is a tougher league. Don't be over-alarmed by the thought of Penn State having scholarship athletes on the rink. ASU has skaters who come from a similar hockey background as many of the Penn State skaters.
What we do know is that ASU's goaltender Joe D'Elia is playing phenomenal hockey as he is 5-0, has allowed just five goals and sports a 96 save percentage in November. Two weekends ago, ASU swept Oklahoma for the first time in program history and outscored the Oklahoma schools 16-2 on the road. The maroon and gold is battle tested this semester and their schedule continues to get stronger as the months roll by. On the other hand, PSU's goaltender Matthew Skoff has made 113 saves in the last three games, which is good enough for a 95.8 save percentage. This weekend should turn into a defense battle despite the Sun Devils having such an offensive minded game. Even though Penn State only lost by two goals to the eighth best team in the nation over Thanksgiving, I think the Sun Devils will find a way to steal a game from their NCAA foe. Regardless of the results, both games should be very entertaining. The Sun Devils still have an outside chance to come home with a 20-0 record.
Series MVPs: Goaltenders Joe D'Elia and Matthew Skoff
Allyson: ASU splits the series
I hate to be the one to call the upset, but I say the series is going to end in a split, with the Nittany Lions taking game one and the Sun Devils taking game two. Penn State has received a lot more exposure to higher-level teams this season. Arizona State has faced challenging opponents as well, however, they have spent multiple games beating up on Division 2 ACHA teams. Although I think they will come out with a win in the end, I wouldn't necessarily say they take much from it, learning wise. Penn State has scored 53 goals on the year so far, the majority of them against D1 NCAA opponents. ASU looks better on paper with 114 total goals on the season, but we have to take into account the types of teams they were facing.
I say Penn State will take game one with a score of 3-1 in a very competitive and defensive game, but the higher level of exposure will give them the edge. Coach Greg Powers has done a fantastic job recruiting players and working with his team. I feel it will be an adjustment period for the Sun Devils after game one, but ASU is going to come back firing in game two winning it 4-2. We are going to see an excellent performance from the defense, including players such as freshman Jordan Young and senior Brian Parson. Goaltender Joe D'Elia will be a huge asset; again I would like to reiterate his .929 save percentage and 12-0 record. Forwards such as Faiz Khan will also prove to be clutch. Khan has made his way onto the first line and has in fact demonstrated that killer instinct that Coach Powers is looking for.
Series MVP: ASU goaltender Joe D'Elia. A lot of talk goes around involving how deep ASU is as a team, with young talent such as Stephen Collins with 17 goals thus far on the season, and veteran players such as Kale Dolinski leading the team with 19 goals alongside 13 assists. However, for my MVP I am going to have to pick goaltender Joe D'Elia. Going into Pennsylvania, he has a .929 save percentage and is currently 12-0.
Kerry: ASU sweeps PSU
With 13 victories over ranked ACHA opponents, the Arizona State Sun Devils have played and conquered even the toughest of challengers. At 18-0, Colin Hekle and company continue to prove that they are the nation's best club hockey team. However, the Sun Devils face a unique test this weekend in the Penn State Nittany Lions, their first NCAA opponent. Though the Nittany Lions are in their first year of competing at the NCAA level, they own five ACHA National Championships and earned the right to compete on college hockey's biggest stage.
The Nittany Lions enter the series at 6-5, and are even more battle tested than the Sun Devils after skating against Division 1 opponents all season. Penn State has two talented goalies in Matthew Skoff (2.16 Goals Allowed Average) and PJ Musico (2.41 Goals Allowed Average), but they don't have nearly the offensive firepower of the Sun Devils. David Glen leads the Nittany Lions with 7 goals a game, but the Sun Devils have six different players with at least 7 goals including three players approaching 20. Arizona State goalie Joe D'Elia (1.73 Goals Allowed Average) would fit in nicely on most NCAA teams and will be critical to the Sun Devil success this weekend. I expect even play throughout the weekend, but I'm going to call the upset and pick Arizona State in both matchups. I expect Stephen Collins, Colin Hekle, and Kale Dolinski to provide the scoring the Sun Devils need to win a couple of low scoring affairs. This weekend will be a great test for Arizona State, but their recent dominance shows me that the Sun Devils are up to the task.
Series MVP: ASU forward Stephen Collins