TEMPE, Ariz. -- A lot can happen over the course of nearly five years and 36 hockey games. Indeed, a lot has.
Except for one thing, however, and it's a big one: A win by the Arizona Wildcats over their hated rivals.
Arizona State last lost to Arizona back on February 21, 2009. Since that time, the Sun Devils have reeled off 36 consecutive victories over their in-state rivals. Yes, you read that right; 36 straight games.
While any game against a team's top rival has a special feel to it, the utter domination in the series is changed the perception on the ASU side of things...at least a a little bit.
"It’s become a bit of a routine," admits ASU senior forward Danny McAuliffe, and he would know. There are few Sun Devils in program history who know as much about beating the Wildcats than McAuliffe.
A homegrown star from Phoenix, McAuliffe has never experienced defeat to the UofA during his illustrious career, and he's one of the key reasons that the Sun Devils head into this weekend's series with Arizona ranked No. 1 in the ACHA.
"I think we’ve been playing pretty good hockey," McAuliffe says of his 28-1-0 team. "We lost that one game to OU, but they’re a really good team. A little adversity is never a bad thing, and getting that bitter taste of losing in our mouth only drives us and pushes us a little harder so that it doesn’t happen again.”
In his final year as a Sun Devil, McAuliffe enters the weekend tied for fifth on this loaded ASU team in scoring with 28 points. His consistent play on both ends of the ice, along with his leadership ability, have made him part of one of the ACHA's most lethal lines that has totaled 119 so far.
“It’s been good," McAuliffe says of his season to date. "I’m playing on that line with Kale (Dolinski) and (Liam) Norris. We’ve built some good chemistry this year. We like to produce offensively and we like to possess the puck. As a line, we’ve done really well. I just want to keep on contributing any way I can.”
McAuliffe's contributions to ASU were interrupted last month, albeit by a great reason. He—along with teammates Brian McGinty, Jordan Young, Alex Temby and Sean Murphy—was named to the Team USA squad that competed in the World University Games over in Italy in December. So respected was McAuliffe among the nation's top players that he was named the team's captain.
“I was completely honored to be a part of that team," said McAuliffe. "It was a great experience overall. Playing top-notch competition from around the world was an absolute once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. It only boosts your confidence by playing such high-caliber hockey. Coming back here and playing in the ACHA, we’re feeling pretty confident.”
That stint with Team USA caused McAuliffe and his four teammates—along with Arizona head coach Sean Hogan, who was an assistant on the USA staff—to miss two of the four games played against UofA down in Tucson. It seemed that with such gaping holes in the Sun Devil lineup would give the Wildcats a great chance at ending the streak.
After a 7-4 come-from-behind win in the opener, the finale of that road series saw a 13-2 dismantling of the Wildcats. That blowout pushed the goal margin of the four meetings this season to a staggering 31-7 mark.
While the streak may add additional pressure to these games, McAuliffe says that by now, his team takes the same business-like approach with the Wildcats as they do with any other opponent.
“At this point, it’s just another game," said McAuliffe. "The streak has gone on for my four years here, and some of our seniors last year went four years without losing to them. Obviously, it’s always important and the rivalry is always important, in particular this weekend being Senior Weekend. Having our alumni out here, we want to make sure we go out and do what we know how to do. But it’s just another game, and we’re going to prepare for it like any other game.”
While this weekend may be viewed as just some more games on the schedule, they nevertheless come against a good hockey team.
Despite what the streak may say, the Wildcats are a quality program on the rise. They enter the weekend ranked No. 15 in the latest ACHA polls, and have several quality players on their roster. Perhaps most dangerous of all, they have a massive chip on their shoulder that's been building up over the span of a half-decade.
“UofA is sick and tired of losing to us. Every time we play them, they want that streak to end very badly," said McAuliffe. "They are going to go out there and give it 110 percent like they always do. We just have to focus on our game and the game we know how to play. Obviously, as far as depth goes, they can’t compare to us. If we just play our game and control that initial jolt of energy that they will bring, I think we’ll be OK."
Part of the challenge will be maintaining discipline and composure in what is always a heated and intense series. Rare have been the games that several post-whistle skirmishes have not broken out.
"It’s always a physical series. Being the last two games at home, there may be some guy who want to go out with a bang and maybe drop the mitts," McAuliffe said. "From past experience, we know that the Wildcats don’t usually like to fight in our barn. If it doesn’t happen this weekend, it may happen the last weekend in February when we are down there. But that’s not something we’re concerned with."
In the end, ASU's massive advantage in talent will be the key. The Sun Devils have felt all season long that if they just concern themselves with their own game, no team in the ACHA can beat them, and that same strategy is priority No. 1 this weekend.
"We’re just focusing on going out there and playing our offensive and defensive game," said McAuliffe.
If McAuliffe and the Sun Devils do that, "The Streak" will live on. The two-game series will take place this Friday and Saturday at the Oceanside Ice Arena in Tempe, with a 7:30 start time on each night.
Facts and Figures:
- It's been 1,806 days since from ASU's last loss to UofA.
- ASU leads the nation in both scoring (5.8 goals/game) and defense (1.3 goals/game). Arizona is 34th in offense (3.5 goals/game) and 35th in defense (3.8 goals/game).
- ASU goalie Robert Levin leads the ACHA in GAA (1.14), save percentage (.955), and is second in both wins (15) and shutouts (5).
- Sun Devil winger Kale Dolinski continues to lead the ACHA in both points (58) and assists (41).
- Liam Norris has three game-winning goals this year, two of which came against UofA.