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ASU Hockey: No. 1 Sun Devils finish final day before season opener vs. Niagara

Coach Greg Powers announced the line combinations for Friday's opener.

On the day before Arizona State hockey's first game of the season, the team decided to lighten up and have a shootout challenge. Every player lined up and took a shot on the goalie. If they made it, they got to go sit down. The last one standing had to eat what coach Greg Powers called "I don't know, pork rinds or something." One player mentioned he thought it was a frozen pig's tongue.

The above video is the finals of that shootout challenge between junior forward Ryan Belonger and senior forward Faiz Khan. Belonger shot first, missing, then Khan made it. Belonger needed to answer back or risk losing, and he did indeed beat the goalie.

It set up one more round, in which Belonger missed. Khan grabbed the puck, skated in, held up and fired it stickside past the goalie.

Belonger lost, and had to pay up. Right before he took a chomp out of it, he held over his head and yelled, "Protein, boys!"

While the tone of Thursday was light, Friday will be a different atmosphere. No. 20 Niagara is coming to town, and it's the start of the Sun Devils' national championship defense.

"Our team's depth is even more than last year, which is pretty surprising," senior forward Liam Norris said. "I think we're going to do well, and I'm just excited to really see how it goes tomorrow night."

Norris will center the Sun Devils' top line, flanked by sophomore Ryan Ostertag and junior Chris Blessing.

Norris is a senior, entering his last season in Tempe, while Connor Mailey will be entering his first. The freshman forward from Calgary is expected to play on the second line Friday night, alongside Belonger and sophomore Sean Murphy.

"I'm excited, I haven't played in about five months now," Mailey said. "If I can find them the puck, I like to give them the puck more than shoot the puck, we're going to be a golden line."

The third line is expected to be all sophomores: Michael Cummings and Chris Burkemper on the wings with Tommy Cooney in the middle. The fourth line will also be all sophomores in Zack Holstrom, Eric Rivard and Patrick Yudez.

No surprise with the top pair on defense, and junior captain Brett Blomgren and sophomore Drew Newmeyer will retake their spot. Behind them will see a pairing of highly touted recruits in freshman Eddie McGovern and sophomore Connor Schmidt. The thirds pair to dress is expected to be sophomore Alex Temby and freshman Gianni Mangone.

As for Niagara, the team comes in having been a bubble team in last year's tournament, but falling just short of making it. An opening-weekend win against the Sun Devils would give it enough strength-of-schedule power that even a repeat of its 15-9 record from a year ago might be enough to sneak into the dance.

Injury report

- Sophomore defenseman Jarrod Levos did not practice due to stitches in his elbow. He will not be cleared until the stitched are removed, which could be as early as Thursday. Powers did not rule him out for Saturday, but he is officially out for Friday.

- Sophomore defenseman Alex Temby was limited in practice this week, but practiced fully Thursday. He is active for this weekend.

- Junior defenseman Jordan Young is still recovering from offseason shoulder surgery and is out until at least the Minot state series Oct. 3-4.

The puck drops on the Sun Devils' season Friday at Oceanside Ice Arena in Tempe. Niagara and Arizona State play again on Saturday as well. Both games are at 7:30 p.m.