No. 1 ASU hockey’s top seed may not matter come tournament time

It’s not hard to argue that ASU has the best hockey team in the nation.

No. 1 ranking aside, the Sun Devils lead the ACHA in goals per game (5.8) and goals allowed per game (1.4). Senior forward Kale Dolinski’s 51 assists and 70 points are tops in the country, as are freshman goalie Robert Levin’s 1.07 goals against average, .957 save percentage and six shutouts.

And yet, they have two losses on the season: Jan. 10 to Oklahoma and Feb. 1 to UA.
 
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Looking specifically at the UA game, the Wildcats entered the game with a losing record and 37-game losing streak to ASU. But hockey is a funny game as senior goaltender Steven Sisler got hot and shut ASU down, allowing UA to skate off with a win.

The Sooners were the No. 5 team in the nation when they visited Tempe, but it still took a strong showing by their senior goalie Nick Holmes to beat ASU.

The national tournament’s format is single-elimination. ASU is the best team in the country, but that might not mean much. ASU was seeded second last year and lost in the semifinals to No. 9-seeded Lindenwood. No. 4 Minot State won the tournament.

The No. 1 seed has not won since 2010.

“That’s the beauty and danger all in one of the format that we play,” ASU coach Greg Powers said. “A goalie can steal a game from you. Both of our losses are one-goal games by our offense and goalies that really really played well.”

ASU’s loss to Oklahoma was officially 3-1, but it was a one-goal game excluding the empty-netter at the end.

Powers said the national tournament is a whole different animal in that ASU won’t get a break by playing any bad teams.

“You have to get a lot of bounces, you have to get really good goaltending and there can’t be any mental lapses,” Powers said. “I think with this team, how much veteran leadership we have, we won’t have any of that.”

Mental lapses may have been the issue last year, senior forward Brian McGinty said.

“Last year we thought we’d cakewalk to the finals, and that’s just not the case,” McGinty said. “You just have to expect that every game is going to be a battle and take it one game at a time.”

ASU is off this weekend, then plays the finale of its regular season down in Tucson on Feb. 21 and 22. The national tournament begins in Delaware on March 6.

Additional notes

– In addition to Levin’s stalwart defense, senior goalie Joe D’Elia is third in the ACHA with a 1.79 goals against average.

– Dolinski has dominated the scoring for ASU. He has 70 points while the next closest player is McGinty, who has 38.

– Senior captain Colin Hekle leads the team with 23 goals. Dolinski and freshman forward Ryan Ostertag are next with 19 apiece.

Reach the reporter at justin.emerson@asu.edu or follow him on Twitter @J15Emerson

A previous version of this article misstated when the national tournament will begin. The tournament begins March 6.