STRONGSVILLE, Ohio- Once the quarterfinals start, that's where the game gets real. Every team still remaining in the ACHA national tournament is a legitimate threat to win it all.
ASU draws Lindenwood Sunday, one of four teams that own a victory over the Sun Devils this season.
"We're comfortable playing anyone," ASU coach Greg Powers said. "These two programs have a long history together and it should be fun."
Lindenwood knocked off ASU Jan. 17 in a shootout 3-2 at home. That was the second game of the series after ASU won 3-0 the night before.
Lindenwood did not look sharp in its opening round game Saturday evening, but slid by an Adrian team that was unable to capitalize on much of anything. Lindenwood seemed unable to keep possession of the puck, turning it over just as often as it entered the zone with any authority.
The entire second period, it looked as if Lindenwood was short-handed. It could not getting anything going but managed to keep the puck out of the net. The hockey gods rewarded that with a Lindenwood goal at the end of the second, and more in the third on a well-executed two-on-one with 5:49 left in regulation.
The biggest reason why Adrian could not capitalize was Michael Hails. Lindenwood's goaltender was tremendous, playing the role of a brick wall against Adrian's attack. With nine seconds left in the game and up 2-1, Hails made a miraculous glove save to keep the game tied.
The key for ASU will be to capitalize on Lindenwood mistakes. Three times in the second period alone Adrian found itself on an odd-man rush caused by a turnover, but could not score. Adrian could have just easily had five or six goals, but a combination of excellent goaltending and just a sprinkle of puck luck set Lindenwood onto the quarterfinals.
But that was one game. Lindenwood finished the regular season with a modest 16-13-3 record with a plus-six goal differential, but was also victim to the toughest schedule in the ACHA. All 32 of Lindenwood's regular season games were against tournament teams, including wins over ASU, Central Oklahoma and Robert Morris, the respective No. 1, No. 2 and No. 4 teams.
Lindenwood won the Central States Collegiate Hockey League tournament, a conference which includes four of the national quarterfinalists including Lindenwood: Robert Morris, Ohio and Iowa State.
"We're confident going in against anybody we play and Lindenwood will give us a good game," Powers said. "But if we show up and play our game to the fullest of our ability, nobody here can beat us."
ASU made it out of its first round behind the four-goal night of sophomore forward Eric Rivard. Lucas Felbel is expected to start in net Sunday against Lindenwood.
The puck drops Sunday at 1:00 p.m. Arizona time at OBM Arena in Strongsville, Ohio. The winner moves onto the semifinals, where the tournament is reseeded. As the No. 1-ranked team, if ASU reaches the semifinals it will play the lowest remaining seed.