ASU hockey hosts rival Arizona this weekend: series preview

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ASU defenseman Jordan Young skates vs. Weber State. By Brad Denny ASU defenseman Jordan Young skates vs. Weber State. By Brad Denny

TEMPE, Ariz. – A lot can happen over four years. Well, 1,686 days to be precise.

One of those possible occurrences has not been the University of Arizona beating Arizona State University on the hockey rink. The Sun Devils have won an incredible 32 consecutive games in this heated rivalry since the last Wildcat win on February 21, 2009.

This weekend, the streak will either be extended or ended as UofA comes to Tempe for a two-game series beginning on Friday night.

ASU enters the weekend a perfect 3-0-0 on the year and ranked No. 2 nationally in the latest ACHA polls. Over the season's first two weeks, the Sun Devils routed San Diego State and Weber State by a combined score of 33-2. With both of those opponents being Division II teams, the level of competition that the Sun Devils faced made those games essentially tune-ups for the rest of the season, but ASU head coach Greg Powers still felt they held value for his young team.

“I think those were good games since we have such a young team with 14 freshman and six sophomores,” said Powers. “Getting our feet wet and our chemistry going in the room and on the bench, and some line chemistry going. That first weekend, I adjusted the lineup without all of our vets, and there really was no difference in the outcome. What we learned was what we already knew: We are incredibly deep.”

During those games, Powers saw many of his new players shine. Forward Sean Murphy notched a team-high four goals, while Zach Holstrom had six assists. Goalie Robert Levin shutout Weber State last Friday, and currently leads the ACHA in goals against average at 0.66.

“They did great,” said Powers. “From Murph leading us in goals to Zach (Holstrom) leading us in assists, even a kid like Michael Cummings, who gets in on Saturday against SDSU and on his first two shifts he scores two goals. They all really performed. Their attitudes are great. Top to bottom, I could not be happier at where their heads are at.”

With the Wildcats here, the real schedule begins and Powers knows it is going to be an all-out war.

“It’s always physical. It’s always feisty,” Powers said of the series against Arizona. “We expect UofA to be very physical and chippy. They always are. They are that kind of team. That’s how they play, and that’s fine with us.”

The Wildcats come to Tempe 2-0-0 on the season after a pair of wins over NAU last week, and they currently hold down the No. 20 spot in the ACHA rankings. Like ASU, the Wildcats have a very young roster, with 17 underclassmen joining a veteran core that includes dangerous scorers Ansel Ivens-Anderson and Andrew Murmes.

“I think they are a good team,” Powers said. “I think they got better and added some more depth and talent. They return a couple of really good players in Andrew Murms and Ansel Ivens-Anderson. They’ve beefed up their blue line quite a bit. They have a good coach. They will come in very well prepared, and I know they expect to beat us. They’re going to be tough.”

While Powers knows that the Wildcats are a better team than they were a year ago, he also doesn’t believe that the talent difference between the programs has lessened.

“They got better, but so did we. I’m not sure what, if any, of the gap closed. We’ll find out on Friday. I believe that ASU is exponentially better than we were last year. I expect to beat everybody we play.”

Playing a hated rival is always a difficult situation for any team, but with a full presidential term’s worth of victories intact, does the lengthy winning streak add to the pressure already on ASU?

“It doesn’t, and that’s the honest truth. We don’t really even talk about the streak,” Powers said. “It’s there. We know it’s there. People make a big deal about it because they should. Any time you beat your arch rival 32 straight times, it’s going to get talked about. The way we’ve approached every game throughout the 32 is it is just one game. We’re just focused on that one game Friday night, and it just so happens that if we come out on top, it’s a 33-game win streak.”

One of the top questions surrounding the team is in goal, where ASU has a suddenly very deep and talented depth chart. Last year’s starter Joe D’Elia will be in net on Friday night, but Levin’s hot start has him pushing for more time.

“Right now, it’s healthy,” Powers said of the goaltender competition. “Joe and Robert get along great, and Lucas Felbel is playing phenomenal in practice behind those guys. We really have three high level goalies that could start for just about anybody else in the ACHA. Right now, Joe and Robert seem to be the guys. Whether or not, one of them steps out and wins that job remains to be seen. If I were a betting man, I’d bet that Robert would get some time this weekend as well.”

To extend the streak to 34 this weekend, Powers chooses not to worry about what the Wildcats will bring to the ice or what they might do. With his talented roster, Powers feels that if ASU focuses on their own game, the wins will follow.

“We’re going to focus on us," said Powers. "We’ll know what teams do, and we’ll know what their power plays are, their breakouts and tendencies. But we’re not going to change the way we play for anybody.  If we perfect the way that we want to play, I think we’re going to hammer just about everybody we play.”

Sun Devil fans hoping to see Arizona once again be the nail can watch the action live. The series opens at Oceanside Ice Arena in Tempe tonight at 7:30 p.m., with game two coming at the same time on Saturday night. Tickets can be found here, or viewers can watch a live broadcast stream here.