No. 12 ASU hockey (10-3-1) is off to one of its best starts in program history in its last year as an independent NCAA team before moving to the NCHC.
Huge wins over then No. 2 Denver and No. 9 Providence have defined the Sun Devils' success. However, the team's three losses this season showcase some areas that may need improvement if ASU is going to continue its winning ways and make the NCAA tournament.
Being a strong comeback team has boded well for ASU, as they’ve gone 4-1 in overtime and have had multiple come-from-behind wins at Mullett Arena. One of the struggles in each of its three losses, however, has been blown leads.
"It's just our puck touches and our systems in general, playing hard, playing fast, staying to our identity, and that will carry us through," junior defenseman Ethan Szmagaj said about the key to holding leads in the future.
After winning the first game in each series against Denver and Providence, ASU subsequently led in each of the latter games. Against Denver, they led by three goals in the second period, and against Providence had an early 1-0 lead. ASU would be outscored 1-9 to finish out those games, losing an excellent opportunity to make some noise as an independent team.
"There’s a reason (Denver and Providence) are top ten teams with championship banners hanging from the rafters because they’re really hard to beat, let alone sweep," head coach Greg Powers said. "The frustrating thing is what the ability to sweep those teams will do for your season, and we were in position to do that against both teams and couldn’t get it done."
In ASU's first loss and road game of the season against Miami University (Ohio), ASU led 4-1 before allowing four straight goals to lose the game. The loss shows how ASU will need to remain disciplined with a lead but also move past its road woes in recent years.
In years past, and specifically in the 2022-23 season, the Sun Devils have struggled on the road, going 4-11. Contrary to this season, ASU had to play many road games with the fifth youngest team in college hockey.
"Last year was our first year where we weren’t very good on the road," Powers said. "Last year, we just didn't get it done; we lost a lot of close games, we had a young team. This year, we have a much more experienced team that has been in every situation."
On Friday, ASU will travel to face Colorado College for its second road trip of the year and first of three trips in December. With just a few away matchups this season, it’s going to be crucial for ASU to overcome its past road struggles if they want to move up the PairWise rankings that determine who makes the NCAA Tournament.
In order to continue winning, ASU is going to need to be good on the power play. At first glance, it's had its ups and downs. Headed into this weekend's series, the Sun Devils have the sixth-highest power-play goal percentage, yet against Providence, they scored on only one out of nine opportunities.
Associate coach Alex Hicks urges not to gawk at the statistics when evaluating the effectiveness of the power play.
"I thought we were actually really good," Hicks said. "If you look just specifically at numbers and stats, then you’re going to be frustrated because you’re failing 70 to 80% of the time. It's a matter of producing good quality chances; that’s what I look for, as opposed to just the stats."
If ASU can withstand the road trips, hold leads and keep producing on the power play, there is no reason they can’t keep up the intensity they are playing at all season and continue to climb the USCHO polls.
Edited by Alfred Smith III, Jasmine Kabiri and Grace Copperthite.