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ASU Hockey: Sun Devils return home for No. 9 Liberty

The road doesn't get any easier for the Sun Devils, who just finished a road trip against the No. 3 and No. 5 teams in the nation.

Sean Murphy (13) leads the team with 16 points.
Sean Murphy (13) leads the team with 16 points.
Courtney Pedroza/House of Sparky

Central Oklahoma beat Arizona State, Oklahoma took it to overtime and Arizona is the school's biggest rival. But they all play in the Western Collegiate Hockey League with the Sun Devils.

As far as nonconference games go, No. 9 Liberty is about as good as it gets.

""Liberty always give us tough games, and we expect a tight one," Arizona State coach Greg Powers said. "They're big, they work hard, they have some skill."

While Liberty (7-1-4) has done an excellent job of moving the puck around in its seven games, Powers signaled one Flames player to whom the Sun Devils (10-1-0, 2-1-0 WCHL) will pay extra attention.

"They have one, in particular really elite player, Luke Hannon," Powers said. "Probably offensively, the best player we've seen to date."

Hannon, a freshman forward, leads the team with 21 points and 14 assists. He is also second with seven goals, and sits near the top of the Rookie of the Year conversation. But he doesn't do it by himself.

Including Hannon, the Flames boast five players with double-digit points in 10 games. Lindsay LeBlanc has 17 points in his senior season, and freshman Luke Simon leads the team with nine goals.

While sophomore Matt Pinel has the majority of the playing time between the pipes, freshman goalie Josh Halpenny leads the team in goals allowed average (0.80) and save percentage (.964).

Between Hannon, Simon and Halpenny, as well as freshmen defensemen Ben Hughes and Peter Shantz, Liberty wields a quiver of freshmen. It's a young team, and should be firmly entrenched in the national title hunt for years to come. But Powers doesn't see their youth and potential inexperience as an exploitable advantage.

"We're far enough into the season where that shouldn't be an excuse anymore," he said. "We're young too. By now, end of October, you know what you're up against."

What the Sun Devils are up against is a Liberty team who started off slow. The Flames lost in a shootout to Arizona, and also suffered a sweep by Minot State. They are hungry for a win against the top-ranked Sun Devils, but Arizona State also has something to prove.

After taking a loss for the first time in 2014-15 against Central Oklahoma last Thursday, Arizona State responded with back-to-back wins against Oklahoma. But three games in three nights in two cities can take its toll, which is why the team has only one game this weekend.

"It's nice, because we just have to focus on the one game, then they get the weekend off to have fun and be college students," Powers said. "These guys need to enjoy life outside of the game, too."

Arizona State will play three games against Colorado and Colorado State next Thursday, Friday and Saturday.

While the Sun Devils may not have a player that has recorded a point as frequently as Liberty's Hannon, their seven double-digit point scorers outweigh Liberty's five, led by sophomore Sean Murphy's 16.

After the injury to sophomore forward Ryan Ostertag, someone needed to step up, and Murphy answered the bell, to the tune of 14 points in his eight games since the Ostertag injury.

"Murph has been awesome," Powers said. "He's played a well rounded game that we didn't see last year and I feel like right now he's with the exact right mix of guys.

"Sky's the limit."

Whether it's Murphy who has a good game, or any of the Sun Devils who lead the team with six goals - Ryan Belonger, Eric Rivard and Tommy Cooney - Arizona State will need someone. Ignore the sluggish start: Liberty is a top team and could prove to be one of the best nonconference games of the season.

The puck drops Thursday night at 8 p.m. at Oceanside Ice Arena in Tempe

Injury report

- Sophomore forward Ryan Ostertag has not healed and is still out.

- Sophomore forward Patrick Yudez's medical results on his foot showed a break, where the expected recovery time is six weeks. Because he has not played in four, he is hopeful to be back on the ice within two or three weeks, he said.

- Sophomore defenseman Drew Newmeyer is still working through a nagging injury in his ankle, and is out for Thursday's game.