Still ranked No. 1, the ASU hockey team welcomes No. 15 Rhode Island for a two-game weekend series.
ASU (26-6 ACHA) struggled last weekend, losing back-to-back ACHA games for the first time all season. Although it remains ranked No. 1, new standings will be revealed before Friday’s matchup against Rhode Island (17-8 ACHA).
The Rams come into Tempe with a 4-2 record since the semester break, fresh off a two-game series split with Niagara University. Rhode Island junior forward Sean O’Neil comes in hot, compiling five goals and two assists in those five games. He has 29 points on the year, second on the team only to senior forward David Macalino, who leads the Rams with 21 goals and 33 points.
While ASU had possibly its worst weekend of the season against No. 5 Oklahoma and Central Oklahoma, the problem seemed to sort itself Saturday with forwards senior Dan Styrna and sophomore Faiz Khan returning. They came back to their original line alongside junior captain Colin Hekle, forming a group with what Hekle called “unbelievable chemistry.”
“We see each other well on the ice,” Hekle said. “When you have that type of chemistry and you know where guys are going to be, it makes everything that much easier.”
The offense will continue to improve this week with the return of sophomore Kale Dolinski, who was the Sun Devils’ lead scorer before he missed last weekend with an injury. Although he trails Hekle in the total point lead (48-46), Dolinski leads the team with 26 goals.
Junior goaltender Joe D’Elia has started 22 of ASU’s 35 games, compiling an 18-4 record. However, he did not start the final two games of last weekend’s series after allowing six goals Thursday night. Coach Greg Powers though was quick to eliminate any notion that there is any controversy as to who is the starter.
“Joe is our starting goalie,” Powers said. “There are no bones about that, and he’ll be in the net Friday.”
With the offense beginning to come around with Khan and Styrna’s returns, D’Elia will be integral to ASU’s success this weekend against a Rhode Island team that has scored 3.54 goals per game. D’Elia has allowed 2.69 goals per game.
Rhode Island counters with two excellent goaltenders of their own, senior Paul Kenny and sophomore Andrew Sherman. Paul has played 16 games to Sherman’s 12, but Sherman has allowed a mere 2.47 goals allowed to Kenny’s 2.65. Both also boast identical saves percentage at 93 percent. For comparison, that is a hair better than D’Elia’s 90 percentage. Whoever the Rams choose to use will be a challenge for the ASU offense.
While the returns of Styrna, Khan and Dolinski will undoubtably boost a reeling team, Powers refuses to admit that they can’t improve. He continues to talk about a “peak” that he feels that they need to achieve.
“We’re still a long way away from reaching that peak,” Powers said. “We have nine games left before nationals to do it and we plan on getting there.”
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