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ASU Hockey: Post-NCAA news, No. 1 Sun Devils return to ACHA action vs. Illinois

While the NCAA news is still hot, the Sun Devils do have to still play ACHA games. And that starts Friday against Illinois.

Courtney Pedroza/House of Sparky

It's all pomp and circumstance until it's time to get back to work.

The Arizona State Sun Devils will be an NCAA Division I program next year, but right now they have ACHA games to play. And that starts Friday with a two-game set against No. 12 Illinois.

"They're a team like (Central Oklahoma)," Arizona State coach Greg Powers said. "If you don't go at them the right way and take them for granted, they will absolutely beat you."

The Sun Devils (18-2-0) reclaimed the No. 1 spot in the ACHA rankings Friday after Central Oklahoma's loss to Colorado State, which gives Illinois (12-5-0) every reason to come out firing. In the eyes of the Illini, they have a chance to beat a future NCAA program, the defending national champions and the No. 1 team in the nation all in one.

Illinois is solid on both ends of the ice, with John Olen's 10 goals and 18 points leading the team. James Mcging may not be getting on the scoreboard himself (three goals), but his 12 assists are big reason why the Illini are as strong as they are.

At the back end, Illinois has allowed only 2.4 goals per game thanks to the net minding of Joe Olen, brother of leading scorer John. The goalie Olen, also the younger, has compiled a 9-2-0 record with a 2.18 goals allowed average and .928 save percentage.

The news of the NCAA has not let the focus slip, the players on the team said. If anything, it has enhanced it.

"Now we're just more pumped to play and make a name for ourselves," junior forward Chris Blessing said.

Blessing is enjoying a nice second season with the Sun Devils after transferring from Wisconsin-River Falls following his freshman campaign. He has played in 19 games already this season, totaling his amount from all of last year, a season in which he amassed nine points. Those nine points have been matched already by his assists output and has added seven goals.

"Last year I came in, I was the new guy, I figured I would be overlooked by some of the older vets," he said. "It's just good to be able to contribute every night and help our team win."

Blessing is sixth on the team with 16 points, and leads the team in House Of Sparky's Mustache Rankings(TM): 

asu hockey blessing mustache

The Sun Devils are in their last season of eligibility for the ACHA tournament. And Powers wants to make sure they go out with a bang.

"The priority is not going to change," Powers said. "We cannot and will not forget the task at hand, and that's winning another national championship in the ACHA this year."

Both games Friday and Saturday are at 7:30 p.m. at Oceanside Ice Arena in Tempe.