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ASU Hockey notebook: Ryan Ostertag's return inches nearer as Sun Devils head to Lindenwood

ASU hockey heads to Lindenwood this weekend, and a star player may be getting closer to retaking the ice.

The road never stops from the defending national champions. One week after sweeping No. 2 Central Oklahoma, the No. 1 Sun Devils hit the road for a two-game set in Missouri against No. 6 Lindenwood.

Coach Greg Powers said he isn't looking for anything spectacular, just more of the same from last weekend.

"I thought we all as a coaching staff were happy with how the team played, even in the loss," Powers said. "When you can beat (the No. 2 team) by a combined eight goals in two games, it's a good sign."

While Lindenwood's 11-9-2 record isn't flashy, its schedule has been brutal. In its last six games, Lindenwood is 3-3 with series splits against Ohio, Iowa State and Central Oklahoma.

Lindenwood is not a team that will overpower the Sun Devils with one particular star player. Their leading scorer Brandon Rumble has 19 points in 22 games, but the Lions are efficient. They have a strong special teams game, converting power plays and killing penalties.

Historically, the Sun Devils have been a strong road team, losing twice this year and not at all last season away from Oceanside. Powers relishes road trips and said it brings the team together.

"I think the guys are just looking forward to getting away together," Powers said. "We're all looking forward to getting away on this road trip together and getting ready for this home stretch."

"Otag" nearing return

Sept. 20 was the last time sophomore forward Ryan Ostertag took the ice for the Sun Devils. He was injured in practice that next week and fans and media haven't seen him since. He returned to practice this week wearing a no-contact jersey, the first time he skated since his injury.

"One hundred, thirteen days, not that anyone's counting," Ostertag said. "It's probably the longest I've been off skates in my life.

Still, it will be longer than that before he suits up for a game. He will not play this weekend against Lindenwood and he considers his target return date next weekend, Jan. 22 against Stony Brook.

Powers said he is hopeful to have him back against Stony Brook but said he will "definitely" play the following weekend against Arizona.

Ostertag did skate this week, but did not fully practice. He worked individually with the coaches on the side, not working with his teammates. He hopes to put on a contact jersey next week and practice.

"It was a bit of a battle, but it looks like it's coming to an end soon, so I'm happy about that," Ostertag said.

Between the pipes

Goaltender Robert Levin played all three games of the Oklahoma-Central Oklahoma home stand, but never looked particularly sharp. He allowed four, two and five goals join the three games, a rarity for a player of Levin's caliber.

"He wasn't himself," Powers said. "He's been so good all year and so good through his career here, he's allowed to have a stretch where he's not himself."

Powers pointed to his stats, which even with the down weekend, are still among the best in the ACHA. Among goalies with at least 800 minutes, he leads the nation in shutouts (5), fifth in goals against average (2.08) and seventh in save percentage (.923).

Powers said Saturday in particular where he allowed five goals - a career-high - he ran out of gas. Powers said Levin will start Friday and if Powers feels his starting netminder needs a breather, Lucas Felbel is a possibility to start Saturday.

ASU brings in volunteer coach

Right after practice Thursday, Powers announced via Twitter that Jake Skjodt (pronounced Scott) will join the team as an NCAA volunteer coach next season.

Skjodt, 27, played his junior hockey with Indiana in the USHL, then collegiately at the Division I level with Nebraska-Omaha. He joined Indiana when it was still starting out and Powers hopes Skjodt will help ease ASU's transition into the NCAA.

The connection dates back to Powers' playing days when Powers played for Skjodt's father Charlie growing up in Indianapolis.