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ASU Hockey: Mid-season State of the Program

Flashes of brilliance, with some duds along the way

Zac BonDurant

Season’s greetings to all of the Ice Devils on the message boards. We hope your holiday celebrations cleansed your pallets from the up-and-down first half displayed by the Sun Devils (9-10-0) in 2022. It has been a tale of two teams with ASU that have battled with the best of the best, and fallen to some shocking opponents.

The holiday break was much needed for Greg Powers’s group after falling in six of its last eight games. It’s been 17 days since the Sun Devils suited up against another team, but the second half is quickly approaching; starting with a tough two game stint at Mullet against Boston College (6-5-4) leading into the new year.

In order to gauge what this team is capable of in the second half, let’s look back at what brought us to this point in the season. It’s time for a good ol’ fashion midseason review.

The hunt for a consistent October

In a year Arizona State was gifted a beautiful, new home for its Hockey team, the Sun Devils fittingly started the ‘22-’23 season with a four game road trip. The schedule showed that ASU would have prove themselves early-on with games against No. 5 Minnesota-Duluth, Bemidji State and Colgate right off the bat.

It didn’t start the way the Sun Devils wanted with an opening night overtime loss 3-2, followed up by a 4-1 defeat to get swept by Minnesota Duluth. The first game of the year was extremely promising despite the loss with how competitive and evenly matched it appeared to be both in the box score and with the eye test.

The fiery spirit finally paid off with a win over Bemidji State in their first matchup over the Beavers, 3-0. Improving the defense was a big emphasis for coach Powers this offseason, so pitching a shutout against a quality opponent had to feel good for the relatively new squad.

Another tough 5-4 OT loss the next night was tough to swallow considering the level of defending we saw the previous night, putting the Sun Devils at 1-3 to start the year.

The first ever home game at Mullet Arena was an electric night that felt like the beginning of something here in Tempe for ASU hockey and Arizona hockey as a whole. A rejoicing 2-0 victory over the minty-flavored Colgate put a capper on a great night for the school, the team, and the fans. There was clearly a bit of a hangover from that rush the following day getting shutout in the series finale 4-0.

The second of a two-series home-stand against Colorado College was a must-have for ASU. The Tigers were a less-than-compelling opponent, and the boys took care of business, sweeping to bring themselves back to .500 at 4-4 heading into the Hall of Fame game against No. 6 North Dakota in Sin City.

In a benchmark matchup in the history of the program, which is trying to establish itself as an upper echelon team in the country, ASU pulled off a remarkable victory on the back of Robert Mastrosimone’s game-winning goal in the opening minute of the third period to defeat UND 3-2.

As an independent team with no conference allegiances, ASU is in a position where they need to play well against top teams, and take care of business against struggling teams. After starting 0-2, ASU finished October at 5-4; not ideal, but certainly understandable considering the inexperience of the group playing together.

Holiday hiccups (and the Minnesota game)

The start of November was fun for the Ice Devils with two straight home wins by three-goal margins against Alaska Anchorage at Mullet. Those convincing victories had Powers and the team on a five-game win streak heading into a cross-country trip to the Northern reaches of New York against Clarkson University.

The series in Potsdam had some misfortune with great defense in game one until a last-second goal by the Golden Knights to lose, and then following up with three goals to the Golden Knights’ five in game two, losing both in tough fashion.

Coming home to play No. 2 Minnesota after a bad east coast trip wasn’t going to be easy, but ASU skated with the Golden Gophers every step of the way in both games, losing 3-2 in game one and winning the ladder in a truly fundamental 6-5 OT win for the program.

That upset gave the Sun Devils wins against two top-10 opponents in the span of a month, even though the consistency was still lacking from series to series sitting at 8-7 on the year. Fans of this team could see the ceiling for a strong run in March, but the floor is flat hockey that any team could potentially steal games from.

Denver is a very strong No. 1 this season, but yet again ASU found itself in another nail-biting contest in game one on the road. 53 miraculous saves from TJ Semptimphelter kept the Sun Devils in it, but the last-minute goal (which could’ve been a high stick) gave the Pioneers a victory, 3-2. Game two was a bit more dominant by Denver at 5-2 with two games to go before the holiday break.

A split with New Hampshire has the Sun Devils sitting at 9-10 heading into Boston College, and now this is when the big guns have to step up.

Who’s going to do it?

The clear issue is the team hasn’t done enough on the road to win. TJ Semptimphelter is playing like a top-25 goalie in nearly every game, Robert Mastrosimone has been the most aggressive and biggest playmaker on the offensive end with a team-leading 21 points, Josh Doan and Lukas Sillinger have both played well, despite the team not ranking very high in any offensive categories. Matthew Kopperud has exploded as of late. The power play goals have been very helpful in wins, and noticeably lacking in losses.

With the “softer” half of the schedule to come, this core has a chance to springboard ASU into the top-25 and compete for a national title. Luckily, for the fans and the team, ASU plays 16 of the final 20 games in Tempe at Mullet Arena. The potential for big winning streaks all depends on the defense and penalty kills.

The buzz in the valley is real at this point with the big wins this team has posted so far in 2022. The back-half will be about ASU taking their destiny and running with it, or falling short in a promising season for the program in just its eighth year in Division I.

The Sun Devils have a chance to wrap up 2022 with two solid wins against Boston College, and then go for it all in the new year. The first half gave us fun moments, let’s see if the second half gives us unforgettable ones.

Happy New Year, everyone.