With the New Year quickly approaching, the Sun Devil hockey team would like one of its resolutions to come early: Do whatever it takes to stay on top of the ACHA.
ASU is traveling to British Columbia with future ACHA conference rival Oklahoma to play Simon Fraser University and the University of British Columbia. To put this game into perspective, they will be just as difficult as the Penn State series because both Canadian team play in a prestigious collegiate leagues. British Columbia will play like a high-end NCAA Division I opponent and Simon Fraser would be neck-and-neck with the Sun Devils in the standings if they played in the ACHA.
Before ASU's winter break began, the Sun Devils received 41 of 43 first place votes to remain atop of the ACHA standings heading into 2013. Eleven Sun Devils will have a chance to play in their home country during the holidays, with only senior forward Dan Styrna is from British Columbia.
Defensively, the Sun Devils did not perform very well against Robert Morris. For the second weekend in a row, ASU allowed nine goals over the weekend series. A large part of the defensive lapse was due to team injuries. Seven players were scratched in the last game due to health reasons so that messed up the team's chemistry.
Defensemen Jordan Young and Sean Ritchie each started the game at forward. So much for getting a chance to showcase the team's depth. Fortunately, ASU had nearly three weeks to get healthy so the roster should be close to normal. Forward Liam Norris will more than likely miss another weekend and he has not played since November 9th. Assuming the Sun Devils are healthy, this weekend should be an entertaining one for the Sun Devil Nation.
Friday afternoon, ASU will take on the University of British Columbia Thunderbirds. The Thunderbirds have a 9-7 record and play a very clean game given that they do not commit many penalties. Some of the UBC players have potential to go pro and they should skate like a stronger version of the Nittany Lions. According to the Vancouver Canucks website, the Thunderbirds frequently practice with the NHL team and they even played against each other in a charity game earlier this October due to the NHL lockout. So yes, the University of British Columbia will be that good.
Cole Wilson and Scott Wasden lead the team with eight goals and Max Grassi has a team high 15 points. Grassi's 15 points is tied for sixth in the Canada West Universities Athletic Association. Do not be alarmed by the low point totals. Remember, they are the equivalent of a Division I program here in the states.
Starting goaltender Jordan White allowed 26 goals in 11 games and teams are known to pepper shots on net. White is a top-five goaltenders in the league based on nearly every statistical category. If the Sun Devils can steal game one in Burnaby, B.C., it will be the biggest win of the season.
Saturday's game could be just as difficult of a test for the Sun Devils. The Simon Fraser Clan enters the tournament with an 8-1-1 record and second in the British Columbia Intercollegiate Hockey League. The maroon and gold may have played more games this season, but Simon Fraser has possibly a better offense than the Sun Devils. Through ten games this season, the Clan has six players averaging more than one point a game. Forward Ben Van Lare leads the team with eight goals and three power play goals.
One thing the Desert Devils need to focus on is the fact that 25-percent of Simon Fraser's goals game on the power play. Recently, ASU has gotten back into the habit of making unnecessary penalties and that surely cannot happen this weekend in Canada. The good news is Simon Fraser averages over 27 penalty minutes per game so Sparky's team may get some power play chances of its own.
Simon Fraser's defense and goaltending should match up very well with ASU. The Clan's top two netminders both have save percentages of 90 percent or better and have goals against average under three. Joe D'Elia (.920 SV%, 2.05 GAA) and Corey Frank (.940 SV%, 1.26 GAA) sport similar numbers. Picture this game as if it were No. 1 versus No. 2 in the same league. In other words, you can expect some good hockey.
Much like the Penn State series, this weekend represents a chance to bring some confidence and momentum back to the ACHA. Win or lose, these games are considered exhibition games against non-ACHA teams so it will effect ASU's win-loss record, but not their league standing.