After getting swept by Minnesota to end the regular season, No. 13 Arizona State (21-12-1) has time off before the NCAA Selection Show on March 24.
According to a College Hockey News Pairwise Matrix, ASU is a 100 percent lock to get into the tourney regardless of what may happen in other games.
The team has nearly a month to prepare for the postseason. Here are a few notes and storylines as the Sun Devils prepare to try and make college hockey history.
Sophomore defenseman Jacob Wilson has been suspended for two games after being disqualified from game two of the Minnesota series. That means he will miss at least the first two games of the tournament, pending how far the Sun Devils go.
Wilson’s suspension comes after an open ice car crash that took place between him and Minnesota freshman forward Sampo Ranta. The play drew some uproar from Minnesota’s fan base and certain college hockey fans.
ASU's Jacob Wilson ejected for this hit on UMN's Sampo Ranta pic.twitter.com/iZyGsLiUmw— CJ Fogler (@cjzero) March 3, 2019
On Friday, head coach Greg Powers spoke about the play, and stuck out to defend his blue-liner after some of the heat he has taken.
“I won’t comment on what I think or don’t think is fair (with the suspension). What I will say is Jacob Wilson is an unbelievable kid. He doesn’t deserve all the crap that he has gotten from people up there,” Powers said.
“He’s a 4.0 student, he’s clean, he doesn’t take dirty penalties, he’s never taken a selfish or retaliatory penalty in two years here...He made a mistake on Saturday, and he’s paying the price. He’s serving his time and there’s no greater or steeper penalty than having to sit out your team playing two tournament games. Enough. It’s enough of people giving that kid crap. He’s serving his time and I think that’s all that really needs to be said about it.”
The two-game suspension was handed out by the Western Collegiate Hockey Association (WCHA), which is the supplemental discipline governing body for ASU as an independent program.
Missed postseason games for Wilson leaves a thinner defense core. Senior Jakob Stridsberg, who has been in and out of the starting defense pairs this season, would seem to be the man to take Wilson’s spot.
“We love our core. The D-core is good. When you have Jakob Stridsberg as a senior to step in and take over in that spot, you are in a good spot,” Powers said. “...I know Strider will deliver and he’s excited for the opportunity. Next man up.”
You can look at ASU’s three-week hiatus as a cup half full or half empty. One can argue that it provides much-needed rest and health benefits, especially for a group that missed sophomore forward Johnny Walker in Minnesota as a result of an undisclosed injury. One can also argue the long break can garner rust. It depends how you look at it.
They have also had long breaks and sustained poor performances, such as their first game of the Desert Hockey Classic against Clarkson. If you ask anyone in the Sun Devil locker room however, it’s an advantage.
“I think it’s just showing up to the rink everyday and work as hard as you can and let the rest fall into place,” junior defenseman Brinson Pasichnuk said. “We know what we have to do. It plays to our benefit that we have these three weeks off.”
Powers told the media on Friday the team had 5-6 guys who fell ill just prior to their trip to Minnesota. Mix that in with Walker’s injury, a bigger ice sheet in Minneapolis, and a surging Gophers team, and that probably didn’t help matters when they were swept. The efforts didn’t meet standards, but there were various outlying factors that could have contributed as well.
All of that is now in the past, and the team has time to heal themselves ahead of the biggest games of their college hockey careers.
Walker might have been dealing with an injury, but that doesn’t mean he still isn’t making headlines. In the fan vote of the Hobey Baker Award, he was put in the top-10 of fan voting. The polls have officially closed. The winner of the prestigious award will be announced on April 12.
Powers’ First Pitch
Three weeks off before the tournament does leave some time for fun activities, and that’s what Powers took part in on Friday night when he threw out the first pitch at an ASU baseball game.
According to Powers, baseball head coach Tracy Smith told him he was going to have a radar gun, and if he didn’t go over 75, he was going to get booed. Powers had his time to prepare.
“I have been mentally preparing for this since the day Tracy asked me earlier this week...I have been out in the backyard throwing with my kids. I am going to throw some juice tonight,” said Powers with a chuckle prior to his first pitch.
His pitch on Friday clocked in at 57 miles per hour. Smith wasn’t pleased.
“He’s fun and that was kind of our way to get after it there...I was disappointed in him. I gave it to him for the 57 miles per hour. It’s not good enough,” said Smith with a laugh and a smile.
Silencing the Critics
Some hockey minds took to the internet to question the legitimacy of the Sun Devil program after ASU was swept at Minnesota. With such remarks, Powers downplayed them, saying “We don’t care about them,” on Friday. He went on to discuss the team’s mindset towards critics.
“I would say that we don’t care about them.”— Andrew Bell (@AndrewBell7) March 8, 2019
This morning, Greg Powers discussed critics of his program heading into the NCAA Tournament after getting swept by Minnesota last weekend. pic.twitter.com/UD4mlnehJH
Whatever the opinion might be, ASU is destined to make the tournament. They are labeled as a lock, and an NCAA Tournament seems to only await.
“I remember our first media day of the year, I heard countless interviews with our guys and they asked what our goals were for this season, and we said, ‘To go far in the tournament.’ That’s what we have expected all year and it’s come into the light and now it’s here,” Pasichnuk said. “Now we are just focusing on it and are excited. We are not shocked at all. We were expecting this.”