TEMPE, Ariz. -- Finding Arizona State in the national rankings and stat book is easy to do.
Just start at the top.
After their wins over Delaware and NAU last week, the Sun Devils remain the ACHA's No. 1 ranked team with an unblemished 13-0-0 record. Not only that, ASU boasts the nation's top scoring offense (6.4 goals per game) and stingiest defense (1.1 goals allowed per game).
Even with as perfect a start to a season as there could be, it still comes as no surprise to ASU senior winger Kale Dolinski.
“It doesn’t surprise me," said Dolinski. "I knew going into the season that Coach (Greg) Powers had brought in some pretty strong recruits. I was actually worried about finding a place in the lineup. After seeing them play in our scrimmages, I figured that we’d be able to compete.”
A primary reason that ASU is holding down the top spot is Dolinski doing the same on an individual level.
Following last week's games, Dolinski is leading the ACHA in scoring with 29 points (in just 12 games), with 19 of them representing his ACHA-best assist total. Such offensive success is nothing new to Dolinski. He led ASU and finished 13th in the ACHA last year with 59 points, and he posted 77 points as a freshman at Minot State in 2010-2011 before his transfer to ASU.
While some may view leading a highly competitive and talented league like the ACHA as something to relish, Dolinski does not. He prefers to be the hunter, not the hunted.
“I hate that," Dolinski said of being atop the list. "I feel like if you’re always behind, you are always working to catch up, but when you are in front, it’s tough to come with the same attitude to the rink. I try not to think about it, and I try to be as modest as possible, because I know that if I didn’t have Liam (Norris) or Danny (McAuliffe), I wouldn’t be here. It’s nice, and I love being there right now, but I know it won’t last if I don’t put forth a good effort each and every night.”
As he was quick to credit, Dolinski's success is in part due to his place on what is arguably the ACHA's most effective line.
Center Liam Norris is third in the ACHA in assists with 15, while winger Danny McAuliffe has 19 points on the year. Along with Dolinski, they represent ASU's top three scorers on the year, with each finding themselves in the ACHA's top 10 in scoring.
“I love those guys. They’re like brothers," said Dolinski of his linemates. "Liam is probably the best playmaker and corner in the entire league. You try to get the puck off his stick, and I honestly think it’s glued there. Danny does it all. He is a highly underrated player. He is physical, he can hit guys, he can skate, he can shoot, and he has some very nice hands. We all complement each other well."
As a unit, they more than make up for in production what Dolinski feels they lack in aesthetics.
"To play with those guys is a privilege. They make the game more enjoyable," Dolinski said. "They fit my style of hockey. It’s a muck kind of game. We’re not going to score the prettiest goals, but they all count the same.”
Last week, Dolinski—minus his two linemates—was at the center of one of the most unexpected, yet encouraging, moments of the young season.
Prior to last Thursday's match-up against then-sixth ranked Delaware, it was learned that nine veteran Sun Devils would be suspended due to a team rules violation. With just an active roster of just 15 skaters, the winning streak and No. 1 ranking were in jeopardy.
“Honestly, I was terrified," said Dolinski. "I was nursing a nagging injury, so I was worried about my competitive level. The first game was a blur. I know that wasn’t their (Delaware's) best effort, but it just seemed like the guys on our team figured it out. They knew that we were down, but we stuck together.”
Dolinski notched a shorthanded goal and an assist during the game, while also playing an outstanding defensive game from his forward position. It was a showcase for the Sun Devils' unmatched depth and skill that has made them one of the favorites for this year's national title.
This week, ASU will look to continue their winning ways during a trio of games against two division opponents.
First up, Colorado State comes to Tempe on Thursday. The Rams are somewhat strangely ranked No. 18 in the latest polls despite a 3-8-0 record. On Friday and Saturday, Dolinski and ASU will host the Colorado Buffaloes, who are struggling in making the move up to Division I. Colorado is currently 1-5-0 on the year.
While some players prepare by analyzing scouting reports, Dolinski does not, preferring to focus on his own game.
“I actually know nothing about these teams," Dolinski admits. "I don’t like asking Coach a lot of questions, because then I start thinking too much. I hear that they are a well coached team and that they battle really hard."
Dolinski knows that the Sun Devils' talent, experience, and depth will put them at an advantage in essentially every game that they play this season. It's up to them to bring their A-game each and every night, and if they do that, the wins will continue to come.
"We know that if we don’t come to play, we can be beaten every night. We are always looking for new competition and a new challenge, and we just have to approach every game the same."