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ASU Hockey: Sun Devils open Murdoch Cup run with Colorado

ASU has the opportunity to win the Murdoch Cup and never have to defend it.

The Murdoch Cup
The Murdoch Cup
Michelle Hekle/Hekle Photo Images

Penn State couldn't do it.

2012 was the last season Penn State was an ACHA team. It knew it would be moving to NCAA Division I the next season and had recruited as such. It had NCAA players on its roster and went into the ACHA tournament with the No. 1 seed and the presumption it would win it all.

Penn State lost in the semifinal round to No. 13 Oakland. Now ASU has a chance to do what Penn State could not: win the Murdoch Cup and leave the ACHA, and never have to defend it.

ASU opens up its hunt for the ACHA national championship Friday trying to become the first team to repeat as winners since Lindenwood in 2010. ASU will need to win four games in order to win it all, starting with Colorado at 3:00 p.m. Arizona time.

Colorado won its first tournament game in program history Thursday, a 4-3 thriller over Buffalo in a play-in game. In that game, Colorado took a 4-0 lead only to see Buffalo bounce back and score three in the third period to bring the game within one.

ASU went 3-0-0 in 2014-15 and has won all six games in the two years the teams have been WCHL conference rivals. ASU won by a score of 2-1 at Oceanside this year and 4-2 and 6-1 in Boulder.

If Colorado is to upset the Sun Devils, it will need to get an outstanding performance from sophomore goaltender Alex Palumbo. He made 24 saves in the first tournament game, and needs to play as he did in the first two frames. Palumbo did not play in the game at Oceanside and had games of 28 and 41 saves at home against ASU.

If ASU gets through the Buffaloes, it will take on the winner of the Adrian-Lindenwood game Sunday in the quarterfinals. ASU went 1-0-1 against Lindenwood this season, losing in a shootout Jan. 17 in St. Charles, Mo. The Sun Devils did not play Adrian this season.

The ACHA reseeds the tournament for the semifinals, so predicting who ASU will play is impossible. As the top seed, it will play the lowest remaining seed.

This year's Sun Devil team is different from the one that hoisted the Murdoch Cup. Gone are lethal scoring threats Colin Hekle, Kale Dolinski, Danny McAuliffe and Brian McGinty to graduation, and two keys to last year's title run, forward Ryan Ostertag and Robert Levin, will miss the tournament due to injury.

Perhaps most notably is the absence of a goalie with ACHA experience. Last season Levin started all four tournament games, but if he was to get hurt, ASU had senior Joe D'Elia waiting in the wings. The two played last season in a 1a and 1b role, and this season the team's backup goaltenders, Lucas Felbel and Jordan Gluck, combined for six games.

But this ASU team is not where it is solely because of its goaltending. The Sun Devils boast three players it did not have last season who are former NCAA Division I players, forwards Ryan Belonger and David Norris and defenseman Connor Schmidt.

It won't be an easy ride in the tournament- it never is. The Sun Devils will have their work cut out for them, but if they can pull it off, they will do what Penn State could not.

ASU has the opportunity to leave the ACHA, and leave it with the Murdoch Cup.