Arizona State hockey will host seventh ranked Oakland and Division II Colorado this Thursday and Friday nights. If the Sun Devils can win both games, they will have the best start in program history with a 15-0 record. Even with all the attention ASU has received from across the league, the top-ranked team has its sights set on one thing this weekend: Redemption.
Last year, the Oakland Golden Grizzlies eliminated the Sun Devils in the sweet sixteen of the national ACHA tournament and finished as the eventual runner-ups. ASU has a chance to erase some of those memories on Thursday night if they can beat the seventh best team in the league.
"Even if we beat Oakland by eight goals, it is not going to steal that void. It's still the regular season but a win will make a statement [to the rest of the league]," head coach Greg Powers said.
In the tournament last season, the Sun Devils took a 2-0 lead into the first period intermission thanks to goals from forwards Danny McAuliffe and Liam Norris. The Golden Grizzlies answered in the second period with two goals of their own and sent the game into overtime.
Despite ASU dominating most of the overtime period, Oakland played well when it mattered and it took no more than five seconds for Adam Novak to go coast to coast and upset the Sun Devils in Ohio. Coach Powers mentioned how Oakland's win against the Sun Devils gave their opponent respect and attention in the ACHA.
"We created a monster in the national stage," coach Powers said. "I don't think Oakland played in Nationals expecting to win. Oakland is very well coached and [coach Jeremy Bachusz] will have his team prepared for us."
The 2012-13 Sun Devils are not the same team that Oakland faced eight months ago. This year, the maroon and gold is capable of winning the close games. Earlier this season, the Sun Devils avoided tie games and deficits in the third period against quality opponents like Lindenwood, Iowa State and Arizona. A lot of that success has come from ASU's goaltender Joe D'Elia, including this past weekend.
"Joe D'Elia was strong on Friday on a night he didn't see much action and on Saturday the only thing that beat him was a 4-on-2 odd man rush. He really didn't make one mistake," Powers said.
D'Elia is just one of the many new faces Oakland has never seen on the ice before. The newcomers have already accounted for 36 goals and 45 assists this season. The Sun Devils will be without freshman defenseman Jordan Young, but he knows the team will be mentally and physically prepared without him.
"We just like to focus on our team and how we are going to play because we look at it as if we are the only team that can beat us," Young said. "[This game against Oakland] will be a great way to make a statement that we are moving on and towards our goals."
One of those goals this season certainly has to be to win a national championship. There are not many better ways for the Sun Devils to prove that they are contenders than to beat Oakland this weekend.
The puck drops in Oceanside at 8:30 p.m. on Thursday and 8 p.m. on Friday.
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