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ASU women's hockey prepares to compete in WWCHL playoffs

The Sun Devils head to the WWCHL playoffs Friday morning as underdogs


ASU senior defenseman Dannika Borges (21) walks off the ice after the Sun Devils' loss to Assiniboine Community College on Sunday, Jan. 14, 2018 at Oceanside Ice Arena in Tempe, Arizona.

This Friday, the No. 15 ASU women’s hockey team will compete in its first game of the Western Women’s Collegiate Hockey League playoffs.

The Sun Devils are guaranteed two games over the weekend, when they will face off against No. 4 Lindenwood Belleville and No. 13 Midland in the team’s first two games of pool play. 

ASU will drop the puck with Lindenwood in the team’s first contest in Fremont, Nebraska. In November, the Sun Devils fell to the Lady Lynx 6-1 in a WWCHL Showcase Tournament.

“I think just because we have seen the opponent (play), it makes preparing a little bit easier, especially having played them this season,” ASU head coach Lindsey Ellis said. 

Last year in the WWCHL playoffs, the road to the American Collegiate Hockey Association National Championship ran through Tempe, as the Sun Devils hosted the league playoffs at Oceanside Ice Arena. 

Hosting the playoffs served as a special opportunity for a team that was in its inaugural season. Since the Sun Devils were the hosts of the playoffs, they were given an automatic playoff spot against some of the league’s elite opponents.

ASU went 0-3 in the league playoffs, with losses against both Midland and Lindenwood. Nevertheless, with some new additions and growth over the course of a year, the Sun Devils will look to avenge last year’s playoff results.

“It means a lot more that you earn that (playoff spot),” Ellis said. “It’s just that skill on the ice that we didn’t have last year. I think you can see that with our play this year.”

ASU comes into the tournament as an underdog among some of the WWCHL’s top teams.

The Sun Devils are the five-seed in a six-team field, and ASU is a combined 2-7 in the regular season against the other teams from around the league.

In the program’s two-year history, ASU has never beaten Midland, Colorado, Minnesota or Lindenwood — four of the teams who will be present during this weekend’s games, all of which are ranked.

Both Lindenwood and Midland have larger rosters than ASU, and to make things more challenging, the Warriors will be playing ASU at their home rink on Saturday morning.

“They aren’t going to expect what we have changed,” ASU senior forward Dannika Borges said. “We have that opportunity, and I am super excited to play them because they are a tough team. They are physical, but we just have to keep our heads in the game.”

The Warriors have five players who have scored 20 points or more, while Lindenwood has six.

Nevertheless, all stats get thrown out the window when it comes time for a clean postseason slate, and a win against Midland or Lindenwood could serve as a signature upset for the Sun Devils.

As for any late season adjustments, the Sun Devils have continued to tighten the little things as they gear up for postseason play. For ASU, the focus is on making tape-to-tape passes and perfecting the breakout. 

“We can’t change anything big right now going into playoffs and mess up our game, but it’s just working on those little things," Ellis said.

If ASU defeats either Lindenwood or Midland, then the Sun Devils can look to secure a possible spot in the semifinals.

However, the team’s entire play over the course of 60 minutes will be pivotal, as goal differentials play a big part in determining who moves on into the semifinals on Saturday night.

The margin of error is thin, and if ASU splits its games, then the difference in goals allowed/goals scored can play a huge factor in regards to which teams move on.

Regardless of how ASU fares this weekend, the Sun Devils have already made steps in the right direction.

In a season where ASU has reached unchartered territory regarding wins, records and firsts, the Sun Devils will look to turn some heads in Fremont.

Building a hockey program from scratch does not happen overnight, and the Sun Devils can showcase themselves to the rest of the ACHA this weekend.

“I know our seniors aren’t ready to be done (playing this season) and I don’t think any of us are,” ASU sophomore goaltender Jordan Nash-Boulden said. “To get a chance to play for a semifinal or a spot in the championship game, that would mean a lot...I think to be able to go in there and win a couple of games against teams in our conference, it would really sort of seal the deal as far as showing how much we have improved from last year, and even from the beginning of this year.”

The puck will drop between ASU and Lindenwood for game one of the WWCHL playoffs  this Friday, Feb. 23 at 8 a.m. MST.

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