The Arizona State hockey season starts four weeks from today when the Sun Devils begin their title defense against Niagara. This week we've broken down the forwards, the defensemen, the goalies and the schedule. Now we put it all together for one season preview.
If you were a casual follower of Arizona State hockey last year, you probably heard the names Colin Hekle and Kale Dolinski. Both have graduated, and now it's time to learn the name Ryan Ostertag. The freshman exploded after Thanksgiving last year, and was arguably the team's best and most consistent player in the second half. Part of that was him making his way up to top line alongside Dolinski and center Liam Norris. While Dolinski is gone, Norris is still there, ready to feed a hungry Ostertag. Watch for the one his teammates call "O-tag" to score, and score a lot.
Prediction: Ostertag leads the team with 32 goals and finishes top-five in the nation. Sean Murphy anchors second line with 25 goals and has two hat tricks during the season.
Inside the Sun Devil crease, it will be hard for goaltender Robert Levin to duplicate what he did in freshman season. He led the nation in goals against average (1.12), save percentage (.956) and shutouts (8, including postseason). In a regular instance, the smart money would be on a player to regress from those lofty numbers just a hair. It's hard to see him being any better, right?
But this isn't a regular instance. The blueliners in front of Levin have somehow managed to get better this season, losing only Brett Prechel to graduation and bringing in three high-level players in Connor Schmidt (NCAA and USHL), Ed McGovern (USHL) and Gianni Mangone (MJHL). The possession numbers will increase, meaning Levin could face even fewer shots than last year, obviously meaning fewer scoring chances. The defense will be there for Levin, he just needs to maintain his lofty play.
Prediction: Levin finishes with a 1.40 GAA, .940 save percentage and matches his eight shutouts.
The conference is good, but Arizona State is better. The Sun Devils only real competition for the WCHL title is Oklahoma, and the Sooners need to find a goalie to replace the graduated Nick Holmes. They are still loaded with young talent, and a goalie alone doesn't seed a team second in the national tournament like they did last year, but the Sun Devils should still be able to squeak by a good Oklahoma team for the conference.
Prediction: A 13-2-1 conference record clinches second WCHL title.
Overall, it's hard to find something wrong with this team. Led by the ACHA Coach of the Year in Greg Powers and the ACHA Rookie of the Year in Levin, this team is a lock for a fifth-straight appearance in the national tournament. The number of games increases this year (from 36 to 41), so two losses will be extraordinarily to difficult to repeat. Asking for a repeat of a national title is a tough task as well, for the simple fact that anything can happen in one game. Even Penn State, the ACHA's most recent dynasty, lost in 2012, and that was with NCAA players. Still, the Sun Devils have enough talent to put them into the elite of the tournament, but predicting a national title is further than I'm willing to go.
Final prediction: 35-4-2 regular season, WCHL title, Final Four appearance, Ostertag, Schmidt, Levin named to first team All-ACHA.