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ASU Hockey Final Thoughts Before the National Tournament

Arizona State has not won an ACHA tournament game since 2009 so this year's team is hungry to end the streak and go for the title.

Photo: Allyson Cummings

Chicago is just days away as the No. 2 Arizona State Sun Devils are preparing themselves to make a deep run in the National Tournament.

"Knowing that we have a legit chance of winning is going to give us confidence going into every game the tournament," senior forward Dan Styrna said. "I'm confident that once we build a lead in the first game, we will regain our swagger that led us to so many wins during the first half."

The Sun Devils were nearly impossible to beat prior to the holiday season, but a second half plagued with a variety of injuries has not helped ASU's chances of maintaining that chemistry.

Both captain Colin Hekle and top-line defenseman Jordan Young missed the last handful of games due to injuries, however, head coach Greg Powers said his team will be healthy by Friday night when the team practices in Chicago for the first time.

Some Sun Devils did not play for precautionary reasons in the previous couple of weekends and everyone has done their job of stepping up when the team needed them to.

"I think every guy on this team knows what he has to do to help our team win. Every player has contributed to the success of this program and hopefully we will stick to our strengths," Kale Dolinski said.

Dolinski is currently second on the team with 53 points and he leads all Sun Devils with 30 goals. Dolinski's biggest game in February was against rival Arizona and he netted two goals after Hekle left the game with an injury.

It's going to take more performances like Dolinski's if this team wants to go the distance and bring back some hardware to Tempe. Dolinski is scheduled to play on the second line alongside Liam Norris and Danny McAuliffe while the ACHA's super line in Hekle, Styrna and Faiz Khan looks to continue right where it left during the three-game Oklahoma schools series.

Six players on this team have at least 35 points and with a healthy line-up, there is honestly no telling what this Sun Devil team is capable of.

"Getting another opportunity at Nationals speaks volumes about this program. Obviously last year left a lot of guys with a bad taste in their mouth losing so early in the tournament that I think the approach we are taking, to play one game at a time, will help keep us level headed," Dolinski said.

The sour grapes came after Arizona State lost its first game in Nationals for the second year in a row, but this team has something previous Sun Devil teams lacked and that's quality defense.

Goaltender Joe D'Elia did a phenomenal job last weekend against U of A after only allowing two goals in 120 minutes of hockey. Some guys don't fully understand what it is like to play in a tournament quite like this one.

Even freshman defender Sean Ritchie has to adjust to the new playoff format. "I'll take my experience in game seven's from juniors to prepare for the single elimination. The atmosphere at U of A this past weekend was a great warm-up for nationals as well," Ritchie said.

In order to help break the two-year Nationals losing curse, the veterans told the new players this year to "embrace the opportunity" and to treat every game like it's the championship game because this team could be only 60 minutes away from the off-season.

"I am looking forward to the feeling you get when you walk into the rink for the first time with a National Championship environment around you," Dolinski added.

Winning four games in five days is not an easy task for a Sun Devil team that will finally be healthy, but the boys are more than ready to embrace the challenges ahead.

Pretty much everything has been checked off the Sun Devils' to-do list. They beat Penn State, swept Arizona for the fourth straight year, and they were the number one team in the league for nearly two months.

The only thing left to cross off the 2013 check list is to win its first ever National Championship.