Thursday night begins the toughest test the No. 1 Arizona State Sun Devils will face this side of the national tournament. Thursday begins a three-game roadtrip, in which the team will face No. 5 Central Oklahoma once and No. 3 Oklahoma twice.
They will be the first official Western Collegiate Hockey League games for the Sun Devils this year (the WCHL Arizona games are Dec. 5-6 and Jan. 30-31), and between Arizona State (8-0-0) and the Oklahoma schools, the conference boasts three of the top-five teams.
"At the top end of the conference, we're the best conference in the country," coach Greg Powers said."We're in it because we knew it was competitive. If it wasn't competitive, we would just stay independent."
That competition starts against a Central Oklahoma team that has managed to fly under the ACHA radar for years, never getting the credit it deserves. This year might change that. The Bronchos (9-0-0) are a top-five team, and have yet to lose a game.
"You see a lot of teams go into Oklahoma, focus on Oklahoma, play Central Oklahoma once and they lose," Powers said. "You cannot overlook Central Oklahoma because they are a hard working team, probably the hardest-working team in our league. If you overlook guys like that, they overwork you and they beat you."
It starts with Rylan Duley. It seems like he has been a thorn in Arizona State's side for years, and he's off to a start that includes 11 goals and 18 points in nine games. The goals and points lead the team, as does his three power-play goals and two short-handed goals.
Central Oklahoma also arms itself with scorers with 17, 16 and 15 points. In all, the team has nine scorers with at least 10 points. Arizona State has four. Central Oklahoma has outscored opponents 71-21.
It's a brutal trip, in that after all the preparation goes into Central Oklahoma, the Sun Devils have to turn their attention to the third-ranked team in the nation.
The record is pedestrian, but the Sooners (6-2-0), but hold losses only to ranked teams. They did have a slip-up to Lindenwood last week in which they lost 8-1, but excluding that are only allowing two goals per game.
Senior Colin Fernandes has taken on the role of goalie from the graduated Nick Holmes, coming in with a 2.28 goals allowed average and a .888 save percentage. The offense has not had an explosion one would expect from a team of this caliber, but Ty Jones still has 11 points in eight games, and Bryce Johnson is too good of a player to have only five points.
- Sophomore forward Ryan Ostertag is once again out for the Sun Devils. While the status of his injury is still unknown, he has not practiced or even attended practice since he got hurt, and may miss significant time.
- Sophomore forward Patrick Yudez got an MRI on his ankle this week is will not make the trip. After the week concludes, Yudez will have missed eight games in a row.