Suspensions rock ASU hockey heading into series with No. 7 Delaware

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TEMPE, Ariz. -- It was all too easy. 

Arizona State's hockey team was 7-0-0 on the year, having just completed a dominating sweep on the road of Illinois, in which the Sun Devils outscored the seventh-ranked Illini 14-1 during the two-game series.

Things figured to get tougher when ASU, still ranked No. 2 in the nation, traveled east to play three games in Oklahoma. And they did.

Up first was a battle with No. 3 Oklahoma. The Sooners' Joe Adams scored early in the first period, putting ASU behind for the first time all season. Oklahoma's defense was stout, and held the top-rated Sun Devil offense in check. Sooner goalie Nick Holmes was sensational, and matched evenly with ASU's Robert Levin as the 1-0 score held late.

Finally, ASU managed to net a goal with just 51 seconds left in regulation to force overtime. After four hard-fought minutes of four-on-four hockey, it appeared a shootout was inevitable. That was until Sun Devil captain Colin Hekle swooped in to beat Holmes with just 10 seconds left in the extra period to secure the win.

Said ASU head coach Greg Powers of the game:

Following the win, ASU traveled 30 miles north to Edmund for a two-game series against No. 11 Central Oklahoma.

Things were a little more back to normal for ASU, as they scored a pair of wins: 4-2 in the opener, 4-1 on Saturday. Hekle netted the game-winner in game one, with Brian McGinty doing the honors in the finale.

Now a perfect 10-0-0 on the year, ASU returns home to Tempe for their first action in three weeks. However, their homecoming will initially be spoiled by a severely shortened roster.

On Tuesday, it was learned that nine players would be suspended for Thursday's game against Delaware due to a missed team workout on Monday, as first reported by Mitch Terrell.

While ASU has arguably the deepest roster in the entire ACHA, the loss of nine players will pose a significant challenge for the Sun Devils to stay undefeated. The team is not expected to call up any players from their Division II team, with a team source telling me that ASU will play with 10 forwards and five defensemen in Thursday's game.

The infraction is classified as minor, and the players are expected to be back with the team at some point this weekend or next, with the support of their head coach.

With that shortened roster on Thursday, ASU will host Delaware, now ranked No. 7 in the ACHA, for a two-game series. The talented Blue Hens are 8-1-0 on the year, with their most recent game against Robert Morris accounting for their lone loss. 

Offensively, they are led by senior forward Mark Zeszut, who is tied for fifth in the ACHA in scoring with 17 points. Zeszut, along with Christopher Volonnino and John Redgate (six goals each), account for the bulk of Delaware's offense, accounting for 56 percent of the team's goals.

In net, Delaware has used their three goalies nearly evenly, with each playing between 180 and 185 minutes. Sophomore Patrick Rochefort has played the best, leading the way with a 2.26 GAA and a .917 save percentage. 

Even before the suspensions, the Sun Devils could not afford to overlook the Blue Hens, the ACHA national champions two seasons ago. In addition to their offensive firepower, the team has shown the ability to knock off top competition, with wins over three ranked teams on the year (No. 12 Davenport, No. 14 Stony Brook, No. 18 Navy). They also have been tough on the road, with four such of their Top 25 wins away from Delaware.

On a more positive note, the Sun Devils head into the weekend with some impressive numbers on their side. Not only do they remain ranked No. 2 in the ACHA polls, but their success on the ice is dominating the stat sheet:

  • ASU leads the nation in scoring offense with 6.8 goals-per-game.
  • Far from being one dimensional, ASU also leads the nation in defense, surrendering just 0.8 goals-per-game.
  • Goalie Robert Levin leads the country in both goals-against-average (a microscopic 0.54) and save percentage (.977).
  • Kale Dolinski is tied for the ACHA lead in scoring with 21 points (seven goals), but has played two fewer games than co-leader Thomas Krysil of Navy.
  • Hekle and Sean Murphy are each tied for the ACHA lead in game-winning goals with three.

Thursday's game begins at 8 p.m., with a 7:30 p.m. start time on Friday.

ASU will end the weekend on Saturday with a 7:30 p.m. showdown with Northern Arizona. The Division II Lumberjacks should pose little in the way of a challenge for the Sun Devils.

Tickets for any of these of future games can be found here.