No. 1 club hockey squares off vs. first D-I foe

ASU starters line up on the ice for pregame introductions prior to the Sun Devils’ 3-1 win at UA on Nov. 3. (Photo courtesy of Michelle Hekle)

While on an 18-game winning streak that has a direct connection to an 18-0 record, it can be easy for a team to lower its focus and cough up a loss.

For the ASU hockey team, that’s not something they plan on doing, especially this weekend.

The No. 1 Sun Devils (18-0) will put their perfect record on the line against NCAA D-I Penn State (6-5) on Friday and Saturday in Happy Valley.

The two-game series presents another first for the Sun Devils, as it will be the first time ASU will play a NCAA D-I team in program history.

Coach Greg Powers says the team is treating it like any other series, but the Sun Devils are aware of what they’re up against.

“(They’re) big, really good,” Powers said. “By far the best team we will play all year.”

Junior forward and captain Colin Hekle says the team has been preparing this week for the task at hand.

“They’re a really good team,” Hekle said. “We need to come with more intensity and passion than they do. They have a good goaltender and don’t have a lot of holes.”

For an ASU team boasting arguably the best goaltender in the ACHA in junior Joseph D’Elia, it’s hard to give credit where credit is due to opposing goalies. D’Elia, on the other hand, says his focus isn’t on who’s across the ice, but what’s in front of him.

“They like to crash the net,” D’Elia said. “I’ve got to help the guys out and myself out by keeping the rebounds limited.”

Many of the Sun Devils dreamt of playing at the D-I level at some point in their college careers, and this is one of those shots.

“All these guys in the locker room had an opportunity to play at that level,” D’Elia said. “It’s a good opportunity to gage yourself.”

This interleague-style series wasn’t that way last season, as Penn State just recently moved up to NCAA D-I. Penn State holds the record for the most ACHA national titles with five out of the 22 total seasons.

Now that the Nittany Lions are D-I, Powers is thrilled for the opportunity at hand but is more excited for his players.

“We have a high caliber group of guys that I think, at one point or another, really believed that they would be at that level,” Powers said. “This is a great opportunity for them to prove to people at that level that they passed on our guys.”

The Sun Devils are hyped for this matchup, but yet they maintain their composure. Powers and the team doesn’t believe this game calls for irregular preparation. Instead, the team needs to continue to do the little things that have made them successful thus far.

“Our systems are good, and they cater to our personnel,” Powers said. “We’re not going to change what we do. We just need to do what we do a lot better in order to beat Penn State. We need to put together two near-perfect games.”

The team realizes the stakes at hand playing a team of D-I caliber and knows they need to bring their “A-game”.

“Everyone’s got to do their job, and each one knows what they have to do,” D’Elia said. “We have to play a pretty damn-near perfect game.”

The Sun Devils are ready for what is to come at Penn State, and none of them intend to slow the momentum the team is currently on.

“We’re 18-0, and our guys expect to remain and guard that record,” Powers said.

 

Reach the reporter at msterrel@asu.edu