It's not often the last two national champions meet in the regular season, but the next chapter of the Arizona State-Minot State rivalry will be written this weekend when the Sun Devils travel to North Dakota for a two-game series.
"They have a lot to prove, we knocked them out, we have a lot to prove, that we're still the elite program," Arizona State coach Greg Powers said. "These are big statement games that we want to win.
Minot State won the 2013 American Collegiate Hockey Association national title, and was then dethroned by Arizona State last year, which went on to win it all. That was the second meeting of the year that the Sun Devils won, with the first being when Minot State came to Tempe with the No. 1 ranking in the ACHA, while the Sun Devils were second. Arizona State won in a 2-1 decision in what may have been the most exciting game of the year.
But the two squads have a very different look. While Arizona State graduated seniors Kale Dolinski and Colin Hekle, among others, Minot State lost goalie Wyatt Waselenchuk.
During his playing career that ended last season, Waselenchuk was arguably the best goalie in the nation. He won the 2013 ACHA Player of the Year, the same year he led his Beavers to the national title. He was also the starting goalie for Team USA in University World Games in Italy.
For the first time in Powers' tenure as head coach, he won't be looking at Waselenchuk when he looks at the Minot State net, but that doesn't mean he's taking the Beavers easy.
"They're as good as they've always been," Powers said. "They have good goaltending even with the loss of Wyatt, so it's going to be the old ASU-Minot series, toe-to-toe and it'll probably go down to the last couple of minutes."
And they will continue to be good as long as Jeremy Johnson is there. The sophomore forward led the team in points last year and is already off to a hot start this year, with three goals and an assist in two games this year.
Prior to last season, the rivalry slanted more the other direction. In six meetings from 2011-2013, the Beavers were 5-1, with the last Arizona State win coming in a shootout in Tempe in January of 2011.
Since Powers took over as head coach, Minot State leads the series 5-3 including the postseason. Friday and Saturday's game will be the first two of four meetings, with the others coming Nov. 13-14 in Tempe.
Burkemper quietly producing
Tommy Cooney and Eric Rivard have received praise for their play early this year, but their third linemate is having a strong start to the season in his own right.
Sophomore forward Chris Burkemper only has one goal through the season's first four games, but he is tied for the team lead with six assists (sophomore Sean Murphy also has six).
"We had a talk after the game Friday and he was really frustrated because he didn't have any goals," Powers said. "I told him don't change a thing, the goals will come. ... He's complementing Cooney so well, that he doesn't have to change a thing and lo and behold he came out and got one on Saturday."
Burkemper and Cooney started on a line with sophomore Michael Cummings, but transitioned to one with Rivard. Burkemper and Cooney have skated together in all four games this season.
"I think (Cooney and I) have really good chemistry and it's great to have (Rivard) on the line with us," Burkemper said. "We always know where we're going to be, we're both quick, good at moving each other to the puck."
- Sophomore forward Ryan Ostertag is still recovering from an undisclosed injury and will be out this weekend against Minot State.
- Junior defenseman Jordan Young was out of the gold no-contact jersey for the first time this week, but will not play against Minot State. Powers said the team wanted to give him one more week, and he is expected to make his season debut next weekend against Arizona.
- Sophomores Patrick Yudez and Alex Temby both missed games last weekend against West Chester with ankle injuries, but both practiced fully and are expected to be active against Minot State.
Update 10:58 a.m.: Yudez and sophomore defenseman Drew Newmeyer will be scratched from at least Friday's game with what Powers called "nagging injuries."