The Sun Devil hockey team lost in the opening round of the National American Collegiate Hockey Association (ACHA) Tournament in 2010 and 2011. It looked like a bad pattern was quickly developing until 2012 rolled around.
Wait? The Sun Devils are 20-2-0 in the 2012-2013 season? That has to be a typo. Sorry voice in the back of my head. That record is definitely accurate.
ASU came into this season knowing that they had the talent and potential to be something special, and that is exactly what they are doing. Winter break now is the home to many Sun Devil hockey firsts.
ASU is the first ACHA program to defeat an NCAA Division I opponent in Penn State, the team swept two-time ACHA champion Lindenwood University for the first time in program history and they have never won all three road games against Central Oklahoma and Oklahoma until this fall. During the first half of the season, the Sun Devils have been the top team in the league for five straight weeks and won 28 straight games against rival Arizona.
On that note, lets see what grades the team's semester grades. I think Mom will put this report card on the refrigerator because she will be proud of her boy.
The Sun Devils forwards played phenomenal hockey in the first half, totaling 130 goals in 22 games or roughly six goals per game. ASU had four games in which players recorded hat tricks.
Eight different Sun Devils scored the team's last 16 goals. This number is impressive because it displays their offensive depth and that head coach Greg Powers can look to anyone on his bench to score the important goal.
In 21 of the 22 games to start the season, ASU has scored three or more goals, including four games where the Sun Devils surpassed ten.
Though the defensive units have only given up 47 goals in the first half, they still need to work on protecting their goaltender and clearing the rebounds to the boards. Countless times this season the defense would make a mental mistake that led to a man advantage for their opponent. That cannot happen in the second half if the Sun Devils are seriously considering a national championship.
The point production from the defenseman is another area of concern, as this year's totals have been lower than we have seen in previous years. That is largely in part to the offense taking control. Seniors Brian Parson, Ryan Clark and Darcy Charrois have combine for only five goals despite having 14 goals last season.
It is difficult to insert three freshmen defensemen into starting roles and expect to see results immediately. But no more excuses. It's time for the defense to dominate the spotlight every weekend just like their road trip to Iowa State and game two against Penn State.
Don't get me wrong; the entire team is playing well. I am giving the defense a high B because there are some areas where they can improve. If they can fix some of those mistakes, this team could be nearly flawless.
Two loses. Twenty wins. Not too shabby from the talented goaltending trio. Junior netmider Joe D'Elia leads all ten-win ACHA goaltenders with a .920 save percentage and that's coupled with an equally impressive 2.05 goals against on average. Corey Frank leads the group in both save percentage and goals against, but he has not seen much ice time in the last month.
The main thing the goalies need to work on is controlling the rebounds. There are some games where they come out flat because they are not tested with a lot of shots so they will need to work on being more consistent between the pipes even when they aren't being tested.
Coach Powers has always called his goaltending trio a blessing and that will need to continue against a battle tested spring schedule.
It has been a successful two and a half months to say the least, but things don't get easier in the spring. The Sun Devils will tentatively play 15 games against ACHA opponents inside the top 20. And don't forget at the end of December ASU is playing against British Columbia and Simon Fraser in the Great Northwest Showcase.
This may be a new beginning to hockey in the desert despite their being no NHL season. Though ASU has performed slightly better than many fans may have expected before the season started, this success comes at no surprise. The Sun Devils were pre-ranked as the No. 2 team in the league after the team only lost three of their top 16 point-producing players last summer.
Five forwards already have double-digit goals on the season, including captains Colin Hekle, Kale Dolinski and Danny McAuliffe. Dolinski has more goals (23) than games played (22) at this point in the season. The maroon and gold has been successful this season because they displayed their depth and have the perfect mix of veterans and underclassmen.
First year Sun Devils Stephen Collins, Brian McGinty and Jordan Young have already surpassed the 20-point mark on the season.
The team is very capable of making a deep run in the National Tournament this March if they continue their hot play in the new year.