The Sun Devils are back in Tempe after winning six of their seven road games in November.
The biggest win of the recent road trip was against NCAA Division I Penn State. The Sun Devils split the series with the former ACHA team, but this weekend they take on third ranked Robert Morris-Illinois.
This is the last time the Sun Devils will play until they head to Canada after the holidays.
Our staff is going to break down what to expect this weekend and explain just how important this weekend is.
Once again, we are joined by the one and only Mitch Terrell, assistant sports editor for The State Press, and hockey broadcaster and photographer Allyson Cummings.
Kerry: ASU Sweeps RMU
As good as Robert Morris and the No. 3 ranking look right now, it's inconceivable to think that any ACHA team is playing better hockey than the Sun Devils. Even though Arizona State split their series at Penn State, the victory in the second game of the series was the emotional victory the Sun Devils needed to propel them as they enter the second half of their schedule.
After being pulled in the first game of the series, Arizona State goaltender Joe D'Elia came back with a performance he'll remember for the rest of his life as the Sun Devils pulled off the stunning 3-1 upset in Happy Valley. I look for Arizona State's dominance in the ACHA to continue this weekend, but I expect Robert Morris to give the Sun Devils a run for their money.
The Eagles have three players who have reached the 20-point mark including freshman sensation Oleg Popev (22) so D'Elia will have his hands full again. With the way he performed last weekend, it looks like Kale Dolinski won't let the Sun Devils lose again so I expect him to be the series MVP in a couple of exciting and hard-fought affairs at Oceanside Ice Arena. I expect a close game on Friday night and for a 2-3 goal win for the Sun Devils on Saturday.
Series MVP: ASU forward Kale Dolinski
Allyson: ASU Sweeps RMU
You may think that I'm being a little too optimistic by saying that the Sun Devils will sweep No.3 Robert Morris this weekend, but with the way the maroon and gold played this past Saturday, I just cannot see an Eagle victory. Coming off of a big weekend where ASU split the series with NCAA D1 opponent Penn State, the momentum is highly in their favor. Not to mention Robert Morris has not played a game since November 17th, and I anticipate them coming off a little bit rusty. Defense will be key for the Sun Devils to succeed this weekend. The Eagles have been known to take multiple shots on net, and ASU cannot afford to lose focus. Goaltender Joe D'Elia blocked 36 of the 37 shots on goal Saturday and that is the type of focus necessary for a win.
Not only that, but they need to make sure they are creating and executing opportunities for themselves to get on the board. This past weekend we saw outstanding performances from veteran players Dan Styrna and Kale Dolinski. Faiz Khan, who has been a surprise as of late, also had two goals and two assists on the weekend. With Khan out this series due to an upper body injury, I am expecting freshman Stephen Collins to step up and produce for ASU. He has already proven to be clutch this year. Game-winning shootout goal against Oakland ring a bell?
Series MVP: ASU forward Stephen Collins
Brad: ASU sweeps RMU
This game presents interesting challenges for both squads. For Robert Morris, how fast can they shake off the rust of such a long layoff? For the Sun Devils, can they keep their focus after such a huge and historic series against an NCAA opponent?
If each team can get past those potential hurdles, this should be a helluva series. ASU will bring their powerful offense against an Eagle team that wins with a stingy defense and the goaltending of Andy DiCristofaro, whose .920 save percentage is second in the ACHA (to ASU's Joe D'Elia) among goalies with ten or more wins. It may take a while to crack the RMU defense, but ASU has too many weapons to be kept in check. On the other side, as long as the Devils stay sound on the blueline, they should hold the Eagles to four or less goals during the series.
Series MVP: ASU forward Stephen Collins
Mitch: ASU Sweeps RMU
No series could have been a better all-around success for ASU hockey this past weekend against Penn State, despite the Sun Devils picking up their first loss of the season. Teams in any sport that are undefeated seem to feel the pressure weighing down as the season progresses. The thought in the back of your mind to not squander the past success creeps up behind the player, causing uncharacteristic errors and stress when things go wrong. Did that happen to the Sun Devils on Friday night? We will never know. But having your first loss of the season in that situation couldn't have been a better situation. The weight was lifted off the team's shoulders and could now focus on playing their style of hockey, knowing that no other expectations come from them until the playoffs. As a player, knowing that only makes you stronger and pushes you to avoid feeling that ache in your gut after a loss. The Sun Devils bounced back with a huge victory over the Nittany Lions, and I expect nothing less than possibly the greatest performance by the team thus far this weekend against Robert Morris-Illinois.
The Eagles' (15-1-1) leading scorer, junior forward Gehrett Sargis, will be the Sun Devils' (19-1) biggest threat, but nothing compared to what ASU saw against Penn State. The defense of the Sun Devils has gained valuable experience after playing the Nittany Lions' net-crowding offense. For ASU, I expect freshman forward Stephen Collins to get back to his normal highlight-reel performances at home. Junior forward Colin Hekle will go along for the ride with three goals on the weekend.
Eagles sophomore goaltender Andy DiCristofaro's stats are impressive, holding a 10-1-1 record and only allowing 26 goals on the season, showing identical signs to ASU junior goalie Joseph D'Elia. D'Elia is 13-1 and has allowed 25 goals thus far, but feel he has come away from Happy Valley with eyes open. The feeling he had on Friday night does not want to be relived, and don't expect to see anything close to that anytime soon. The fire is lit beneath the "Canadian Wall," and expect a superb performance from D'Elia.
The Sun Devils will walk away with two victories on the weekend, but they won't come easy. Friday night will be a close game decided by goal late into the third period, but Saturday will bring out the animal within ASU and will go for a big victory at home.
Series MVP: ASU captain Colin Hekle
Nick: ASU Sweeps RMU
Apparently I'm not going to be that guy and disagree with my colleagues and predict a Robert Morris victory. Let's be serious. ASU is still undefeated against ACHA opponents. On Friday night, the Sun Devils played a very strong first period and arguably their quickest hockey to date despite losing 8-3. The only weakness last weekend was that the defense and goaltending was not strong as it allowed a season-high eight goals on Friday. However, notice how quickly that changed on Saturday. Allowing just one goal to an NCAA opponent should show the entire league just how strong the Sun Devils are.
Brad highlighted a key point that this could very well be a defensive battle in Tempe. Both DiCristofaro and D'Elia will prove to be tough to beat, but the offensive edge is highly slanted toward ASU. The maroon and gold already has four forwards who surpassed the ten-goal mark this season. Senior forward Dan Styrna has seven goals and 20 points through 20 games and two of those goals came against Penn State. It looks like the Sun Devil forward is back! Unfortunately, his line mate Faiz Khan will be out for this series due to an injury, but Stephen Collins will resume his spot on the top line that now boasts Colin Hekle, Styna and Collins. Wow. The Eagles don't stand a chance.
Series MVP: ASU forward Dan Styrna