The Sun Devils are in Cleveland and their road to the repeat begins Friday. The ASU hockey team will take the ice for an opportunity to do what has not been done since Lindenwood in 2010: lift the Murdoch Cup for the second straight year.
It won't be without its challenges, though. ASU will rely on two goaltenders who have a combined six games of experience in the net this season. Star goalie and 2014 tournament MVP Robert Levin tore his ACL in the last game of the regular season, giving opportunity to the two backups.
It's time for Lucas Felbel and Jordan Gluck.
"All they can do is embrace the opportunity," coach Greg Powers said. "They have no choice but to look at this as the best opportunity that has ever been presented to them in their hockey career, because it is."
Felbel, the sophomore who was the third goalie last season, and Gluck, a freshman in his first year with the team, have ASU in a different spot it was in last year. During their championship season of 2013-14, ASU had the luxury of two goalies who split time essentially down the middle. When Levin needed a breather, Joe D'Elia, a former national champion at Davenport, took over and vice versa.
This year, game minutes have been slanted heavily toward Levin. Felbel and Gluck have combined for 310:26 minutes, a far cry from the 1916:25 Levin racked up. Still, the pair isn't worried about any rink rust.
"Both of us put in a lot of hard work all year just in case something like this happens," Felbel said. "I think we'll be ready to answer the call."
Powers has yet to announce who will start Friday's playoff opener, and may not decide until moments before the team takes the ice. It can also be expected that whoever gets the starting nod may not finish the tournament or even the game. Powers said he may shake things up based on matchups. The postseason is not a time to have a long leash on a struggling netminder.
"We both have experience in playoffs," Gluck said. "You can't think about it too much because one loss and you're gone."
What he means is this isn't new to either of them.
Gluck was the star of the Castlegar Rebels of the Kootenay International Junior Hockey League in 2012-13, where his performance lifted his team to the KIJHL title. He played 18 games in the playoff run, with a 1.85 goals against average and a .932 save percentage. His shutout in Game 5 of the series against the North Okanagan Knights clinched the title and a playoff MVP for Gluck.
Felbel had the same success in his playoffs. During the Manitoba Major Junior Hockey League postseason in 2012, Felbel tended the net for the champion Charleswood Hawks to the tune of a 1.86 goals against average and .43 save percentage in 13 games. He won playoff MVP.
"We're mostly going to draw to our playoff runs we made in juniors," Felbel said. "It's the same mentality, except in this tournament it's win or go home. So a little bit more pressure added."
Felbel said he looks at past backup goalies in the NHL who had success in their team's playoff run. Semyon Varlomov had two shutouts for the Washington Capitals in 2009 and Ilya Bryzgalov played five games for the 2006-07 Stanley Cup Champion Anaheim Ducks.
Gluck is a New York Rangers fan and saw Montreal Canadiens goalie Carey Price go down in the Eastern Conference Finals. Dustin Tokarski played well in that series for Montreal.
"As long as you know you're capable of playing at the level, it doesn't really matter," Gluck said. "You just have to be ready."
Powers said the decisions of who plays what game will be made based on matchups. Gluck played well against Colorado should the ASU meet the Buffaloes, where Felbel struggled against Central Oklahoma earlier in the season.
"We cannot and will not let this be any sort of excuse to go there and do anything but come home back-to-back national champs," Powers said.
And on Friday, at 5:00 p.m. local time (3:00 p.m. in Arizona), the puck drops on ASU's chance at a repeat.