TEMPE, Ariz. -- On Friday night, Arizona State and Arizona will meet on the ice for the first time this season.
The Sun Devils (3-0-0), ranked No. 2 in the latest ACHA polls, will look to continue their undefeated season and march towards a national title.
Arizona's goal? Do something that they have not done in 1,686 days: Beat ASU.
Yes, it's been over four full years since the last Wildcat win over the Sun Devils occurred on February 21, 2009. There have been some close calls over that span, but ASU has always managed to come out on top.
A loss to UofA is something that the Sun Devils' captain, senior Colin Hekle, has never experienced. From the time of his freshman year in 2010, ASU has piled win atop win over their hated rivals.
With the Wildcats (2-0-0) coming to Tempe for a two-game series this weekend, I caught up with Hekle to get his take on ASU's season to date, how his high-scoring line is coming together, and what it will take to extend the winning streak to 34.
Even with playing lower-quality teams, what have you learned about this year's Sun Devil squad through the first three games?
Hekle: “We have a lot of offensive firepower. We didn’t have too much of a chance to see what our defense corps had to bring (just 50 shots on goal allowed in three games). I expect we’ll see that against UofA because they are a much, much better team than what we’ve played. I think it was good to get our feet wet and our systems in order.”
Many of the team's newcomers are having outstanding starts to the year. What it your evaluation of how they've performed as a group?
Hekle: “It’s always exciting to see a crop of recruits turn out as expected, if not better. This year is definitely not an exception to that for us. It’s nice seeing those guys get production early. I know it can be frustrating for new guys if they don’t get a point or two in the first couple of games when we are blowing out teams. It’s nice to have them get that confidence quickly, and I hope it carries on for the rest of the season.”
With so many newcomers coming in to augment an already established core, how has the team meshed so far?
Hekle: “It hasn’t been much of a transition. From the first day the team got together, we were already hanging out. A lot of the guys already had houses together. It wasn’t too much of a change from prior years. It’s been routine to get these guys into the ASU family and starting off on the right foot.”
How do you think you have performed two game into your senior season?
Hekle: “I actually thought I played pretty well against SDSU. I just didn’t get on the stat sheet. The other game against Weber State, I thought I played pretty well again. I got two goals in that game, so it was nice to get some production. I think I’ve been playing pretty well, but it’s easy to play pretty well when you have guys like (Faiz) Khan and (Sean) Murphy on your wing. It’s been a nice start, but I would have liked some more production out of myself.”
What are your thoughts on how your line of Sean Murphy, Faiz Khan and yourself has come together?
Hekle: “I really like how we are working. We have a very different dynamic than the other lines. I’m a big guy (6-foot-4, 200 pounds) and those guys are smaller playmakers. I find that my size opens up a lot of room for them to do a lot of what they do best. It’s worked out well so far. They are extremely talented players, and the combination of us three has just worked out well so far. I hope it continues.”
The rivalry already is very intense, but does the 32-game winning streak add any additional pressure to the team?
Hekle: “Yes and no. It’s always in the back of your head that you want to keep the streak going, and you don’t want to be the guys to lose to them. Other than that, it’s just another game and another day. We have to play our system, and if we play our system right, we have a very good chance of winning that game. I think it is focusing on playing it like any other game. Bring that intensity like we would against Lindenwood or Minot. Play good, technically sound hockey, and don’t get caught up in the emotion of the game.”
What is your scouting report on UofA?
Hekle: “I’ve heard they’ve had a couple of good new recruits. Over the last few years, they’ve gotten a lot better. It’s going to be a good two games here this weekend. I expect them to give us a run for our money to keep this streak alive.”
Are you expecting another physical series against the Wildcats?
Hekle: “There’s always going to be a few more penalties than in a regular game, but I think that overall, in these first games for us, we’re going to work on our discipline. Stay out of the box. Try to stay out of the emotional aspect of the game. They have a few players on their team that if you give them an opportunity on the power play, they will make you pay. We’re going to have to stay out of the penalty box and keep it a little calmer than other rivalry games that we’ve had.”
What are the top keys to victory to keep the streak alive?
Hekle: “Being smart and responsible in our defensive zone. If we do that, we have the offensive firepower to take care of the rest. It all starts with our backend protecting our crease and our net, and making sure that whoever is playing sees all the shots. From there, I don’t think we’ll have a problem offensively.”