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ASU Hockey: No. 1 Sun Devils host rival Wildcats on championship banner night

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Arizona State hockey's arena will be rocking Saturday night when the team raises its national championship banner.

Michelle Hekle/Hekle Photo Images

When Arizona State returns home from its roadtrip, the University of Arizona will be waiting, ready to meet for a two-game set at Oceanside.

It's officially rivalry week in Tempe.

"It's always, always, always big," Arizona State coach Greg Powers said. "We don't downplay our rivalry and say we treat the games like any other game, we treat it like a completely separate season."

Not to downplay Friday night, but Oceanside will be a madhouse on Saturday.

The Sun Devils (6-0-0) chose Saturday to raise the national championship banner, and invited back last year's championship game. Arizona State lost on senior night to the Wildcats (2-1-0) last year, and Powers said that's still on the team's mind.

"They didn't sent out on their senior night against UA," Powers said. "The plan is to send them out on the right note on banner raising night.

That senior night loss snapped Arizona State's 37-game win streak over its rival, and for it to happen on the seniors' last home game was tough, Powers said. The current players feel the same way.

"The seniors worked pretty hard to get us to that streak that we had," junior captain Brett Blomgren said. "It sucked that it snapped with (Arizona) here, but we're looking to build that streak back up this week."

asu hockey ua streak
The Sun Devils watched Arizona celebrate the ending of the 37-game streak on their home ice last season (Michelle Hekle/Hekle Photo Images)

There's two sides to every rivalry. While the Sun Devils have starting a streak on their mind, the Wildcats have upset on theirs.

Arizona split a two-game series last weekend with No. 8 Liberty on the road, before heading to Tempe to meet the No. 1 Sun Devils. Arizona got a late start to its season, and has not had the ice time it would have like. Because of that, Arizona coach Chad Berman said it's tough to get a gauge on where the team is.

"If we get caught up in comparing ourselves to top teams in the country right now, given the circumstances, I think we're going to be disappointed more often than not," Berman said. "If I think we're going to match up and run-and-gun with Arizona State, we're going to go over there and get blown out."

But that doesn't mean he is conceding the games by any stretch. He said the Wildcats need to play sound, fundamental hockey. He emphasized back checking and not allowing Arizona State to get open in space. If the Wildcats can limit the amount of ice the Sun Devils' top scorers have to work with, Arizona will be able to go toe-to-toe with its rival.

Looking at the stat sheet, Arizona freshman forward Alex Nespor looks like a star in the making, a goal-scoring machine. He does have six in just three games, after all. But Berman doesn't see it that way.

"Alex Nespor is not a goal scorer, Alex Nespor is hard-working, grinding forward who when he's playing right, does the right things," Berman said.

Nespor totaled a goal and two assists in the weekend against Liberty. But he started the year with five goals in the Wildcats' season-opening win against Division II NAU.

"If we're going to be successful this season, we're going to need a lot more guys playing like he did that night," Berman said.

Nespor and the Wildcats come to Tempe at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday.

He's back

jordan young asu hockey
Jordan Young (right) makes his season debut friday against Arizona (Michelle Hekle/Hekle Photo Images)

At first, the estimate for assistant captain Jordan Young's return was the second half of the season. Then it was about a dozen games. When it's all said and done, Young will return from offseason shoulder surgery having missed only six games.

Now he can practice knowing he will get to play this weekend.

"It's obviously more motivation and makes everything a little more exciting," Young said.

He rejoins a stacked blue line, which features the team captain and three defensemen - Ed McGovern, Connor Schmidt, and Gianni Mangone - who have fantastic starts to the year in the first season with the team.

"Young is one of the most skilled guys on our team," Blomgren said. "He's going to help us out on the power play and just overall give us some depth back there.

Injury report

- Sophomore forward Ryan Ostertag will be out this week against Arizona. He is still working his way back from an "undisclosed injury" and is to be considered "week-to-week," Powers said.

- Sophomore forward Patrick Yudez is out for at least Friday night with an aggravation in his ankle injury that cost him time against Minot State.

- Junior defenseman Jordan Young and sophomore defenseman Drew Newmeyer are both expected to play after missing time against Minot State.