(Photo: Nicole Vasquez/WCSN)
A lot has happened in the past few months for ASU hockey. The announcement of the move to NCAA status might prove to be the tipping point for college hockey in the West. Currently sitting at No. 1 in the ACHA, the Sun Devils still have some unfinished business to attend to, which includes defending their title as National Champions. Analysts Troy Lynch, Spencer Hann and Zuriel Loving break down the state of the team heading into winter-break.
-Hockey editor Nicole Vasquez
Q: With all that has happened in the past few months, what are the biggest questions facing the team as they head into break?
Troy Lynch: The biggest question this year for the Sun Devils is, can they win back-to-back championships? However, it is not the question of will they win their second national championship in two years, it’s can they stay healthy enough to?
Zuriel Loving: My biggest question is: Can the team stay healthy? I feel that with so many recent injuries and no timetable for their return, it’s a little worrisome heading into 2015. The team will only play against currently ranked top-25 teams with many of the matchups being WCHL games. If the Sun Devils can stay healthy, they’ll be primed to repeat.
Spencer Hann: With a 22-2 record, ASU has looked like the class of the ACHA once again through the season’s first half. The real question is if they can translate the regular season dominance into playoff success and defend their National Championship. While no one will find out the answer until early March, early indications seem to tell the tale of a team that is hell bent on winning yet another ACHA championship.
Q: Injuries have been an issue in the lineup, however top-scorers like Liam Norris, Ryan Belonger and Sean Murphy have all stepped up to help carry the team. Who is that other player(s) that needs to step up?
Troy Lynch: Yes the Sun Devils have had bad luck with injuries this season, but what makes them the favorite to win another championship this year is their depth. The one player who needs to step up more than the rest is forward Jared Morris. Morris is new to the team this year and is a recruit that decided to come to ASU even after he played for Northwestern University, which is a NCAA division one program. Coming into the season he had a title, and that title was ‘goal scoring machine’. Right now he only has one goal and six assists in fourteen games, needless to say he has had a tough time with the transition. However, he does have two assists in the last two games, so Morris might be finding his offensive groove again, which ASU will need with a tough rest of the schedule.
Zuriel Loving: Drew Newmeyer and Mak Barden need to step up. I feel as if they’ve both done well this season but haven’t reached their potential yet. Newmeyer needs to be more aggressive on the power play while Barden should utilize his finesse and attack more often.
Spencer Hann: Thanks to so many contributions from across the board, the offense has been clicking on all cylinders despite having played the majority of the season without arguably their most skilled player, Ryan Ostertag. However, the production from captain Brett Blomgren has to be a little puzzling for ASU coaches. Three points and no goals in 21 games for Blomgren is not the numbers a player of his caliber should be putting up. If the Sun Devils’ captain can turn things around in the second half of the season it would only bolster a Sun Devil offense already averaging 4.91 goals per game.
Q:Which opponent in the upcoming schedule might give the team the most trouble?
Troy Lynch: The next toughest team that the Sun Devils will play is Central Oklahoma. Right now the Bronchos are No. 2 in the ACHA and also have the second best record. They are a team that can play the entire 60 minutes in a game and will out-work their opponents, that is how they are successful. Earlier this season, the Bronchos handed the Sun Devils their first loss of the season beating them 7-4. This time around could be a different story as ASU will most likely have their star goalie Robert Levin in the whole time, where as before they were trying to rest him for their next two games against Oklahoma. Although, ASU has a huge target on their back and the schedule ahead of them will be a challenge the biggest obstacle will be their two-game series against Central Oklahoma.
Zuriel Loving: I think all the opponents have the opportunity for trouble, but I’m most excited about the series with Central Oklahoma. The Bronchos handed the Sun Devils their first loss back in October, and the two teams are now competing for the number one spot in the WCHL. I think whoever wins this series will be kissing the Murdoch Cup in March.
Spencer Hann: Central Oklahoma comes to Tempe for a January 9th showdown after already defeating ASU in October 16th in Oklahoma. Heading into the break as the second ranked team in ACHA, the Broncos have shown a propensity for lighting up the scoreboard, averaging a mind-blowing six goals per game through the first half of the season. What makes this team so dangerous is the fact that they can win low scoring games as well, holding opponents to two goals per game on the road. With the teams so close in the standings, ASU needs to remain cognizant of the matchup and the impact it could have on playoff seeding come seasons end.
Q:At this point of the season, do you think ASU is still the favorite to repeat as National Champions?
Troy Lynch: Even though the Sun Devils have lost twice already and have been stricken with injuries all year, they are still the favorites to win this year’s national championship. The reason for that is head coach Greg Powers believes that his team still hasn’t played the best hockey of their abilities and there is always improvement. Having to deal with some major injures with players such as Ryan Ostertag, Gianni Mangone and many more the Sun Devils still have the best record and have beaten some of the top teams in the league. The winter break will be good for the Sun Devils as it will give them time to heal and focus on team chemistry as that has been a factor for them this season.
Zuriel Loving: I still have ASU as my favorite for the national championship. They haven’t peaked yet and once they have everyone back and healthy, they should hit their stride. I don’t think the road to a repeat will be easy but with the depth and talent they have, I don’t see anyone stopping them.
Spencer Hann: Armed with the best record in the ACHA, the most talented lineup and hands down the best goalie in the league, ASU is once again favorites to win the National Championship. There is little the Sun Devils have shown to dispute this notion. Close games earlier in the season should only prove beneficial for this young team and their ability to handle adversity. With just two years before ASU fully merges into NCAA Hockey, Coach Powers will want to leave the mark of a dynasty on the ACHA.