ASU hockey season preview: Goaltending

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By Brad Denny By Brad Denny
By Brad Denny By Brad Denny
By Brad Denny By Brad Denny
By Brad Denny By Brad Denny
By Brad Denny By Brad Denny

TEMPE, Ariz. -- There were few things more difficult to do in the ACHA last season than score a goal on Arizona State.

The Sun Devils run a system predicated on defense first, and the results in 2013-2014 proved their effectiveness. ASU led the nation by allowing just 1.4 goals per game in the regular season, and then surrendered just four goals during their four-game run to the program's first national championship in the national tournament.

Defense does indeed win championships.

“It was an amazing experience. I’ve never had anything like it," said ASU goalie Robert Levin. "Coming back here and starting practice, it makes you realize how special it is and how much work it takes.”

Levin, then a freshman, split time with senior Joe D'Elia last season, but the newcomer quickly established himself as one of the elite goaltenders in the entire ACHA.

In what may have been the greatest season by any ASU goalie in program history, Levin led the league in goals against average (1.12) and save percentage (.956) while tying for the lead in shutouts (six) during the regular season. He then kicked it up a notch in the postseason, adding two more shutouts and surrendering just four goals in his four starts. That performance earned him the prestigious tournament MVP award.

“I was happy with it, but overall, the defense and team in front of me was just amazing," the typically humble Levin said of his first season. "They made everything easy.”

The Sun Devil defensemen did indeed do a fantastic job all season long in limiting opposing scoring chances, but that takes nothing away from the work Levin did in net. The numbers he was able to put up were no accident.

After being the 1 to D'Elia's 1A on last year's depth chart, the job is now entirely Levin's, but that hasn't changed his outlook or preparation.

“No different approach. It’s the same thing," he said. "Approach every game like you’re playing and give your team the best chance to win, and if you’re not playing, be supportive.”

“Any goalie wants that responsibility (of being the starter)," ASU head coach Greg Powers said. "Anyone who watched our team last year knows that Robert could have been that guy, but Joe had a great year too. It was kind of hard to give it to one or the other because they both played so well. He’s ready for it. Any real competitor, which he is, they want that net every night. Right now, I anticipate him getting a lot more than he did last season.”

As great as Levin was in net a year ago, a summer of hard work has now resulted in a terrifying thought for the rest of the ACHA.

“He looks even better," Powers said. "He worked really hard over the summer. He looks stronger, more explosive. He really worked on his core and his movement in the crease. He is just one more year developed. He goes home during the summer and works really hard and gets really good instruction. I don’t want to say he’s picked up where he left off because he’s better. He’s living up to his reputation as our hardest worker.”

“The biggest thing for me over this offseason was working on my balance and lateral mobility," Levin said. "That’s what I really focused on. I feel that I made strides there, but obviously I’m not where I want to be in that every day I can get better. I’m happy with my progress and I’m going to keep working on it.”

The 6-foot-1, 185-pound Levin will see the lion's share of the work, but he's not the only talented goaltender in Tempe.

Lucas Felbel was the No. 3 netminder last season, and will serve as Levin's backup this year. The 5-foot-11 Manitoba native has impressed his coaches and teammates with his offseason work.

“Lucas looks great. He came back in incredible shape," said Powers. "I would say, from a transformation standpoint, he over everyone else on our roster, came back looking like a different kid. He put in an exorbitant amount of work in the offseason and crushed our fitness testing. His movement is much more explosive. He’s mentally checked in and ready to go and really contribute. The team is confident he can do that.”

“He came into the season in really good shape. He’s working really hard," Levin said. "He’s a talented goaltender and a positive guy. It should be good competition.”

Rounding out the group is Jordan Gluck, who was recruited by Powers a year ago but failed to crack the top squad. However, after an offseason of work, he's made strides, secured a roster spot, and perhaps earned some ice time.

"Fundamentally, he’s probably the best guy we have," said Powers of Gluck. "He passes the eyeball test, making the big athletic saves and the way that he moves with his fluidity. He’s really good. He’s a KIJHL MVP his last year of juniors. He’s a guy that can push both Lucas and Robert, and I would expect to see him in the net a little bit.”

With Levin, Felbel, and Gluck in the crease, Powers now has as potent a goaltending trio as any team in the ACHA. Throw in the laegue's best corps of defensemen, and last year's results could just be the starting point to another successful year for Sun Devil hockey.