Last year, Arizona State hockey's defense was consistent and reliable. One of the major headlines entering the 2013-14 season is whether the team can replace the leadership of its three graduated seniors.
ASU ranked fifth in the league with a 2.45 goals against average and the defense played a large part in that success. But the graduated seniors were more valuable than their stat lines.
Darcy Charrois, Brian Parson and Ryan Clark each grew this program into a national powerhouse and by the end of their careers, they became threats on both ends of the rink.
The three combined for 42 goals and 136 assists in 329 career games donning the maroon and gold. How can the current defensive core replace these three? Well... they can't. But this group isn't expected to fill in their shoes. They are expected to build on the team's new and more developed identity and make the pieces fit together.
There is no denying that coach Greg Powers will miss his senior leaders, but he believes everything will work itself out.
"My main focus right now is just doing what I have to in order to be prepared for the season as the head coach of this program," Powers said. "The lineup will take care of itself, it always does. The guys who want in the most and go to the measures to get there will be the ones who are rewarded."
There are no free passes. Everyone needs to compete to earn his Sun Devil sweater, especially the defense and goaltending.
With the addition of two goaltenders this offseason, the battle between the pipes could heat up to a point where Joe D'Elia has to fight to keep his starting role.
Game on, defense.
As the Sun Devils begin conditioning camp this week, lets take a look at how the defensive pairings could shape up.
Mike Smith (transfer - personal reasons)
DEFENSIVE PAIRING PREDICTIONS AT A GLANCE:
1: Jordan Young - Alex Temby
2: Drew Newmeyer - Troy Hoban
3: Sean Ritchie - Brett Blomgren
STARTING GOALIE PREDICTION
First Unit Analysis: Young-Temby
There is no denying Jordan Young is the clear-cut favorite of all the defensemen. Young is entering his sophomore season and he provides a ton of firepower.
He was known last year for his coast-to-coast speed and wicked shot from the point. The local product missed 15 games with an injury, but he still posted seven goals and 15 assists.
Young was off to one of the best offensive starts for a defenseman in the league considering he had all of his goals and 67 percent of his assists before Halloween. In other words, we weren't even halfway through the regular season.
The man who appears to be in line to play with Young could very well be Alex Temby. The two have been longtime friends, they both played competitive junior hockey, and Young was the player who put Temby on Powers' recruiting radar.
The Littleton, Colorado native had an impressive run in the NAHL with the Texas Tornado and he won a national championship at the junior level. In nearly two full seasons with the Tornado, Temby racked up five goals and 18 assists.
The two elements of his game that separate him from the pack is that he accumulated a plus-13 rating and played on the power play unit. So with Temby and Young both having special teams experience, Temby could adjust to the Sun Devils' umbrella scheme and see even more ice time.
Chemistry comes first and the fact that these two underclassmen have a history together could put them in line to be the top blue line pairing.
Powers on Temby: "Alex was a huge get for us. Players with his ability coupled with tremendous character and leadership ability do not come around often. Alex will be a difference maker from the minute he steps into our locker-room."
Second Unit Analysis: Newmeyer-Hoban
How could Powers possibly be comfortable with playing two freshmen together on the same line?
Coach trusts that Drew Newmeyer will be a big addition to the program and if Newmeyer is penciled in as the team's second best D-men, then it makes sense that Powers would split up his two best options to anchor their respective lines.
Remember, the Sun Devils were fortunate to acquire the Scottsdale, Arizona native because the recruiting process was nearly wrapped up until Powers decided he could add another defenseman.
Newmeyer played 58 games in the United States Hockey League with the Indiana Ice. The 5-foot-10 defenseman scored five goals and had 10 assists in arguably the best junior league so he will be looked at for leadership on the rink.
Troy Hoban could play on the opposite side of Newmeyer. The St. Paul, Minnesota native played two seasons in the Manitoba Junior Hockey League and he scored 23 points in 56 games.
He could compliment Newmeyer nicely because Hoban brings a physical edge and he knows how to control the pace of the game. This pairing could quickly emerge into a solid two-way threat.
Powers on Newmeyer: "Drew will have a major impact immediately for us, but also has room to grow and improve being so young, which is great timing. What really made me want Drew so badly, aside from him obviously having an immediate impact on the ice, is the fact he is just an incredibly good and respectful kid. He is going to fit in immediately and I believe his decision to attend ASU now is one he'll never forget."
Powers on Hoban: "I have been recruiting Troy for about a year and his ability to rush the puck and move it quickly will really help us in transition from the back-end. I couldn't be more excited about adding a kid like Troy to our program."
Third Unit Analysis: Ritchie-Blomgren
The reason these two sophomores are a great fit is because they are both big body defensemen who made virtually zero mistakes as freshmen on the defensive end.
From an offensive standpoint, Powers would not expect a ton of offense from this pairing just yet, but be patient and give it one more year. Ritchie and Blomgren are both capable of slapping shots on net to keep it in the zone, but that is not their strongest point.
In analyzing this pairing, all people seem to see are that Ritchie and Blomgren combined for four goals and 11 assists in 79 games. The top two lines are dangerous because they are two-way players and have more developed offensive skill sets, but they do not have the size of this potential third pairing.
Blomgren and Ritchie each stand 6-foot-2, and weigh in at 200 pounds. One thing the Sun Devils lacked last season was a physical game. These two, though, will be an exception.
Sleeper: Jarrod Levos
Levos could very well emerge as a freshman dark horse because he has raw talent. He played in the Western States Hockey League last season for the Phoenix Knights so it won't be as tough for him to adjust from a location standpoint because he played hockey in the desert last season.
In 41 games, the incoming freshman scored 11 goals, led the Knights with 30 assists, and tallied 94 penalty minutes. He is a producer but he may need to develop a little more before he makes a large impact as a Sun Devil. He could be an asset on the power play considering Levos was second on the team with 12 power play points. The other defensemen come from a higher junior hockey pedigree but we will see if Levos is up to the challenge to steal a starting spot.
Starting Goalie: Robert Levin
Ok, hear me out Sun Devil fans. I understand that D'Elia was a third-team ACHA All-American last season, but a good portion of that credit should go to his defense in front of him.
D'Elia played lights out some games, but was inconsistent during others. For example, he allowed 10 goals in two games against Stony Brook and Oklahoma and then shutout Rhode Island on back-to-back nights during his next two starts.
There is still a chance D'Elia is the go-to guy. But for now, fans should keep an eye on Robert Levin during the next two weeks of camp because he could be the team's new No. 1.
Playing in the EJHL, the Highland Park, Illinois native went 19-15 and had a .913 save percentage to go along with a 3.20 goals against average.
Levin logged the second most minutes in the league and those 19 wins rank him fourth. He was also drafted to play in the United States Hockey League this year, but he opted to enroll at ASU instead.
When his junior team made the playoffs in 2011, Levin had a save percentage one point shy of .960 so the 6-foot-1, Midwest goaltender knows what it's like to compete for a title.
Another thing to help out Levin's cause is that he has four years of college eligibility to build this program into a west coast dynasty compared to D'Elia's one year of remaining eligibility.
If D'Elia were to win the starting job again this season, nobody should be surprised. That would only mean to keep an eye on Levin throughout the season because he could quickly emerge as an ACHA gem.
Powers on Levin: "Getting a player of his caliber is huge for us. Robert was literally offered spots by multiple NCAA Division I programs. He is a great fit for us and has a great head on his shoulders and brings a really polished game in net. He trains very hard on becoming a better goalie and those are the kind of players we want at ASU."
Other defensemen battling for a spot
Junior Kyle Hughes (1G, 10A, 15 PIM in 39 games)
Junior Dan Kuenzi (0G, 0A, 2 PIM in 10 games)
Freshman Jarrod Levos (4G, 9A, 49 PIM in 18 games in WSHL)
Other goalies in the hunt
Senior Joseph D'Elia (26-5, .911 SV%, 2.38 GAA in 31 games)
Senior Kyle Dietriech (5-1, .892 SV%, 2.72 GAA in seven games)
Junior Corey Frank (4-3, .917 SV%, 2.26 GAA in nine games)
Freshman Jordan Gluck (20-4-2, .928 SV%, 2.06 GAA, 6 SHO in 28 regular season games for Castlegar Rebels in KIJHL)
Gluck was also the KIJHL goaltender of the year and led the league with a 1.85 GAA after the playoffs.
The defense should be a little easier for coach Powers to weed through. It's going to be all about chemistry this year and in previous years, we saw that Powers likes to split his leaders on different lines.
The goaltending battle is going to be the hottest competition on the team this season. This is the most difficult prediction for the coaching staff to make. Ironically, whoever finishes fifth on the goaltending depth chart could be an every day starter on probably 75 percent of the ACHA teams.
We will have to see who puts on the pads in less than a month for the home opener because it's going to be difficult to pick the No. 1 goaltender in this group. Expect this year to be another goaltender-by-committee kind of year until things fall into place closer to the holidays and Powers officially decides on his top guy.