ASU hockey had its Maroon and Gold scrimmage Sept. 15, played its first game Sept. 20, won its first conference title Feb. 6 and Friday, it will begin its run at a first national championship.
The Sun Devils lost in the semifinals last year, and they aren’t prepared to be satisfied with anything but the national title trophy, the Murdoch Cup.
“If it’s not a championship, for me, it’s a failure,” senior captain Colin Hekle said. “The only thing I’m looking at, above all, is getting that ring. Anything else is just a disappointment.”
The tournament format is single-elimination, meaning one slip-up could make a 34-2 season a “failure,” as Hekle said. ASU lost to the No. 9 seed last year and the No. 13 seed two years ago.
“It’s just whoever’s hot in the tournament can give you a run for your money,” Hekle said.
The Sun Devils are seeded No. 1 and have a first-round bye. With that bye, they need four wins to claim the title.
Their first game will be against the winner of No. 16 Rhode Island and No. 17 Lindenwood, which takes place Thursday. Coach Greg Powers said the coaching staff plans to attend to scout the winner.
“We have already done a lot of film on both teams, so we’ll be prepared either way for whatever team we see,” Powers said.
The game holds a bit of intrigue as Lindenwood eliminated ASU in the final four last season, a tournament in which Lindenwood was seeded ninth and ASU second. Powers said a chance at redemption is not weighing heavily on his mind, but he wouldn’t be opposed to seeing the Lions.
“I wouldn’t say I want them to win,” Powers said. “But certainly if we’re able to play Lindenwood, I don’t think the guys are going to shy away from it and be too disappointed.”
But Lindenwood might not be the biggest obstacle to a national tournament.
Oklahoma is seeded third, and was the first team to beat ASU this year, snapping ASU’s 24-game winning streak back on Jan. 10. Oklahoma is the best team the Sun Devils have played all year, but they would not meet the Sooners until a semifinals match or the national championship.
The most interesting matchup would be a potential Cactus Cup redux. No. 15 UA would need to beat No. 18 Illinois then get through Oklahoma. It’s not unrealistic: UA swept its season series with the No. 2 Sooners, beating them all three times. UA would then need to beat No. 7 Ohio or No. 10 Iowa State.
If the Wildcats were the lowest seed, it would set up a semifinal matchup against their Northern rival Sun Devils, if ASU wins its first two games.
But first is Lindenwood or Rhode Island. ASU’s plane arrives Wednesday night, officially completing the team’s road to Delaware.
The road is over. The Sun Devils are there. And the puck drops Friday at 6 p.m.
Reach the reporter at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @J15Emerson