The No. 2 ASU hockey team will hit the road for the first time, and waiting for it is the No. 4 team in the nation: Illinois.
With only two Division I games played this season (a sweep against No. 20 UA), the Sun Devils (5-0) will be facing a team in Illinois (6-1-1) that is better than any they have faced all season.
ASU coach Greg Powers said he doesn’t care who the Sun Devils face, as long as they execute their game plan.
“Our M.O. is focus on us,” Powers said. “We think if we play our game and play it to perfection, no matter who we play, we’re going to win.”
ASU has dominated its competition so far, outscoring opponents by a whopping 44-3 in five games. All that scoring has been spread out pretty evenly as 18 different Sun Devils have averaged at least a point per game played. Last weekend even saw a freshman take over the team lead in goals.
Forward Chris Burkemper was a prized recruit coming into the season, and with two goals Saturday against UA, he now leads the team with five.
A familiar face has claimed the points lead, as last year’s leading point and goal scorer, senior forward Kale Dolinski, reclaimed the top spot with 11 so far in only four games.
In net, the regular formula is expected. Powers gave no indication who will start the weekend, but the last few weeks have seen senior Joe D’Elia start the opener with freshman Robert Levin taking the curtain call in game two.
All those wins and all those points have been at home, though. ASU has yet to hit the road, and that game comes against a top ACHA team in Illinois.
Powers said he does not expect to see a drop-off in production when the team leaves Oceanside Ice Arena.
“The road is a good thing,” he said “You got the guys in a controlled environment, you’re together, you bond. … The guys are looking forward to getting out, and getting away together and playing some road games.”
The Fighting Illini have had success early in the season as well, winning their first six to open the year, but were swept in two games last weekend against Iowa State.
Senior forward Eddie Quagliata has been the top offensive weapon for the Illini, with 11 points in seven games. Sophomore forward John Olen and freshman defenseman Cody von Rueden lead in goals, with five each.
Between the pipes, junior Nick Clarke leads the Illini in just about every category. Oddly, his 1.93 goals allowed average and .920 save percentage have yielded only a 1-1-2 record in net. Sophomore Joe Olen is 3-0, but his overall stats trail Clarke significantly.
This weekend starts a stretch of five straight road games for the Sun Devils. After two with Illinois, ASU heads out to Oklahoma the following weekend for its first WCHL-conference games. One game with No. 3 Oklahoma awaits the Sun Devils, as do two more games with No. 11 Central Oklahoma.
ASU returns to Tempe on Oct. 24 for a two-game set against Delaware and a matchup with Division II NAU.
Reach the reporter at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter at J15Emerson