Arizona State (4-6-2) returns to the road this weekend following a holiday hiatus to take on perhaps the program’s biggest test all season against No. 1 Minnesota (8-0).
Under head coach Bob Motzko, the Golden Gophers have not trailed in a hockey game all year and have been a juggernaut. Minnesota ended the first half of the season a few weeks back with a resounding two-game sweep of No. 8 Michigan, too.
It will be the first time since 2018 that ASU faces the No. 1 team in the nation. Here’s an outlook of the series:
What Time/Where To Watch
Both games will be televised on Fox Sports Go and locally on Fox Sports Arizona. Game one’s puck drop on Sunday is set for 2:05 p.m. local time while Monday night’s matchup is scheduled for 6:05 p.m.
Players to Watch
The Golden Gophers have 13 NHL draft picks, but leading the charge this season has been the upperclassmen of Scott Reedy and Sampo Ranta.
Reedy, a San Jose Sharks draft pick, is a strong net-front presence and has been wreaking havoc on opponents, netting six goals and putting up nine points in eight games played. Ranta also has seven points, and sophomore forward Ben Meyers has nine points as well.
Minnesota has scoring depth throughout its lineup, and all 12 forwards that they put out will pose threats.
Between the Pipes
A 2016 third-round pick of the Carolina Hurricanes and in his second season at Minnesota after transferring from Michigan, Jack LaFontaine is putting up a legitimate campaign for the Hobey Baker Award in net.
He is a perfect 8-0 with a monster .965 save percentage and 1.00 goals against average, helping lead the way on the back end for the Golden Gophers. He has two shutouts and has been stellar all season.
The only other meeting between these two schools was in March 2018, when the Sun Devils got throttled 5-2 and 5-1 at the hands of Minnesota in a two-game series.
Playing without Johnny Walker, the Sun Devils struggled adjusting to the international ice sheet that is used at 3M Arena at Mariucci, and the end result was two ugly losses to cap off the season.
What coaches/players had to say about the opponent:
Coach Powers: “We watched a lot of their games throughout our 36-day (road) trip and they are really good. Bob and his staff have done an incredible job getting that thing ramped up and they are there. It’s going to be a huge challenge.”
Defenseman Jacob Wilson: “What an opportunity. We are really looking forward to it and we’re excited. We know we got a great team and we’re going to compete. We just got to play our game and stick to it.”
-Weekly Walker update. Johnny Walker is expected to be a gametime decision for this week’s series.
He has not played since early November due to a lower body injury. Powers noted that the “worst case scenario” is that he’ll be back by the Notre Dame series next weekend.
-Minnesota absences on the blue line. The Golden Gophers have three defensemen currently representing Team USA at the World Juniors Tournament in Edmonton. Brock Faber, Ryan Johnson, and Jackson LaCombe are all out this weekend.
“Those three (players) are fantastic and I think you’re seeing how good Brock Faber is up at the World Juniors,” Powers said of the missing d-men. “We’re obviously cheering for the U.S. because we want to see them do well, but if that means that we have to face those three kids two less times during this eight-game stretch, that’s even better.”
-Bigger ice sheet. As noted above in the series history, the international rink at Mariucci is a much larger playing surface compared to the normal dimensions in college hockey.
It allows for a lot more time and space to make plays, and can even have some games looking like track meets on the ice.
Although ASU struggled at the venue last time, Powers thinks this team is much more equipped for the venue due to the new players that bring depth, speed, and skill.
“Defensively, you really have to focus on playing inside the dots and not getting caught out in no mans land,” Powers said of 3M Arena at Mariucci. “Offensively, it allows you more time and space to do some things, which we have, and speed, which we have. We’d like to think we can also use it to our advantage.”
-Second half road swings. Instead of a prolonged road trip to begin 2021, ASU will be making two separate road trips in the second half of the Big Ten slate. They will both be eight-game, 23-day treks.