It didn’t take long for coach Greg Powers and the rest of the Arizona State hockey coaching staff to release their final roster for the 2014 season. In fact, it came mere hours after the conclusion of the annual Maroon and Gold game, meant as a dress rehearsal as well as the final chance for players to state their case to Powers. The outcome of the game, a 5-3 Maroon victory, meant less to Powers than experimenting with different lines and looks.
"(We have) a lot of good players," Powers said. "Even the kids that we’re gonna move to D2, there were some really good performances out of those kids."
Late Friday night the team released their final 30-man-roster for the big club, featuring three goalies, 19 forwards and eight defensemen.
"We’ve had a pretty good idea what our roster would look like but we used (tonight) to formulate how we’re going to play that roster.," Powers said. "A lot of what you may see over the next week of practice and at the Niagara game is based off of work that was put in this week and tonight."
Powers made shifts in lineups often throughout the night, but he gave starting goalie Robert Levin nearly two periods in goal for the Gold team, and he shined. The sophomore showcased the skills that pushed him into the starting spot in the championship run last season, stopping a barrage of on-goal shots from the Maroon team. While Levin masterfully tended goal, the Gold attackers took advantage. Ryan Francis, a Division II player who just missed the final cut for the big team, scored Gold’s first goal of the night off a deflection by Maroon goalie Lucas Felbel, punching it in to the back of the net to give Gold a 1-0 advantage at the end of the first period.
Both Felbel and Levin played well in the second period, matching each other stop-for-stop. But when Levin was taken out of the game with just under four minutes left in the period, both teams’ offenses lit up. Freshman forward Connor Mailey boosted the Gold lead to 2-0 with a slapshot goal off of a deflection, but Austin Ehrlich, another Division II player, answered mere seconds later with a goal past goalie Al Taylor. Maroon tied the game up before the end of the second period with a goal from highly touted recruit Connor Schmidt.
A tie game headed into the third period, the players continued to play hard and scratched and clawed for the puck. Justin Butler smacked a screaming shot on goal early in the final period and while it was initially stopped by Taylor, its momentum carried it past the line into the goal, giving Gold the lead back at 3-2. That was the last that Gold would hold the lead. With 15 minutes left in the game, Ryan Ostertag subbed in and quickly scored a game-tying goal. Close calls and missed chances followed for both teams in the ensuing minutes, but Sean Murphy ended the stalemate with a slapshot goal that gave Maroon its first lead of the night at 4-3. An insurance goal from Justin Havriliak put the game in the bag as Maroon completed the comeback, scoring all five of its goals after Levin’s exit.
While the victory over their teammates is an ego boost for the members of the Maroon team, Powers was more focused on figuring out what different schemes he’s going to present Arizona State’s opponents with this season.
"It’s tough because you don’t know if you’re playing guys with the right guys or not," Powers said. "So, just effort, finishing your checks, hustle, hard work, the basic stuff.
"I don’t want to really change anything, we’re just gonna really work on getting together and getting good chemistry going, on and off the ice and doing things together. We’ll work on our systems and what not, we have lot of work to do and not a lot of time to do it but it’s like this every year and we always come out of the gates strong."
Ostertag, who was an integral part of the 2013-14 championship team, said that this year’s Sun Devils present different threats but will gel with each other as well as championship teams should.
"It’s definitely a different team this year. It’s weird having guys like Colin Hekle and Kale Dolinski not here, two guys who were big last year," Ostertag said. "Just a lot of new faces and it takes a little getting used to but it’s good to get tryouts done and get started with everyone. Once we have the team we’ll get some new lineups and new chemistry going."
Ostertag’s efforts in the banner-raising season were not in vain, and he was named an assistant captain for this year’s squad.
"I’m excited about it. Nothing really changes for me," Ostertag said. "I’m still gonna play the same game, same premise in the locker room. We have so many guys that are leaders on this team, it’s just a couple get to wear a letter on their chest."
Two weeks before taking the ice as defending champions, Powers wore his championship ring on Friday night. He said he’s only worn it four times, as the ring is too big to reasonably wear regularly. But Powers wore it on Friday night, knowing that the next time his team takes the ice they’ll have started their defense of their championship. With that success comes a target on the team’s back, as every school they’ll face this season will look for a statement win against the Sun Devils. Does that bother Powers at all? Of course not.
"We embrace it, we don’t run from it."